Chapter 8: Drug supply reduction policies and responses (EU Drug Markets Report)

Drug supply reduction policies  and responses

Drug supply reduction is part of several policy areas at the EU level and a core component of the drug strategies and responses of Member States. This section of the report looks at the main EU policies and strategies addressing drug supply reduction, the supporting institutional arrangements, and some of the operational actions undertaken by the EU, Member States and international partners.

Relevant EU strategic actions

The EU drugs strategy (2013–20) and action plan (2013–16) provide a framework for addressing illicit drugs in the EU, complementing Member States’ national strategies and supporting joint actions. In the area of supply reduction, the framework reflects the challenges identified earlier in this report. These include the dynamic nature of illicit drug markets, changes in trafficking routes and the role of cross-border organised crime and new technologies in the trafficking of illicit drugs and new psychoactive substances (NPS). It also notes the importance of preventing the diversion of drug precursors and cutting agents from licit industries that can be used in the production of illicit drugs (Council of the European Union, 2012a).

The overarching objective of the EU drugs strategy (2013–20) in the area of supply reduction is a measurable reduction of the availability of illicit drugs, through:

  • the disruption of illicit drug trafficking;
  • the dismantling of OCGs that are involved in drug production and trafficking;
  • efficient use of the criminal justice system;
  • effective intelligence-led law enforcement and increased intelligence sharing;
  • an EU-level emphasis on large-scale, cross-border and organised drug-related crime.

Tackling groups involved in the illicit drug trade is an important element in the EU policy cycle for organised and serious international crime (the policy cycle), through which EU Member States coordinate common priorities and operational action. The policy cycle consists of four main steps: (1) policy development, (2) priority setting, (3) implementation and monitoring, and (4) evaluation of the current policy cycle and definition of the next one. The process involves the Presidency of the Council, the Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security (COSI) and the European Commission developing a policy advisory document, based on the SOCTA produced by Europol (see Figure 8.1). This document is then used by the Council of the EU to agree conclusions, drafted by COSI, which define the crime priorities in the policy cycle — it is the Council’s responsibility to make political decisions in the justice and home affairs area. Subsequently, multi-annual strategic plans are established and implemented through operational action plans (OAPs), both of which are developed by the Member States, the Commission and the EU agencies under COSI’s coordination. Following this, project groups are established to manage each OAP. EMPACT functions as the coordination platform for the EU Member States and institutions to implement operational law enforcement actions and to develop and manage actions supporting the policy cycle. Amongst the priorities in the 2014–17 policy cycle, two specifically concern drugs: disrupting the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs in the EU, including NPS; and disrupting the cocaine and heroin trafficking into, and their distribution within, the EU.

Figure 8.1

The policy cycle on organised and serious crime

Source: Europol.

The production and trafficking of drugs are key issues in the EU’s renewed internal security strategy, ‘the European Agenda on Security 2015–20’ (Council of the European Union, 2015c). Drug smuggling has been identified as one of the activities contributing to organised cross-border crime. It challenges border control and the movement of people and goods and is a financing tool for terrorist and OCGs. These activities undermine the area of freedom, security and justice created by the EU. The European Agenda on Security notes the dynamic nature of drug markets, in particular the production of NPS within and outside of the EU. It also underlines the key role played by the EU policy cycle on organised and serious international crime against drug trafficking in the internal and external security policy nexus (31).

The European Agenda on Security recognises the importance of the European Maritime Security Strategy in addressing drug trafficking as a security issue. This includes, for example, the use of coordinated patrol actions and the establishment of interoperable information systems. Similarly, it supports the approach taken in the European Agenda on Migration, given the links between OCGs involved in the trafficking of drugs and the facilitation of illegal migration (Council of the European Union, 2015c). 

The global nature of drug production and supply activities highlighted throughout this report makes the international responses an essential component of any EU action to tackle drug markets. The EU engages in political dialogues with third countries in its immediate geographical neighbourhood and other parts of the world though EU delegations and the European External Action Service. This involves working with other regions and countries to achieve common goals, such as strengthening democracy and the rule of law, supporting trade, and promoting sustainable and alternative development. Drug issues often feature in these political conversations and as part of EU-level policy documents including drugs-specific and broader strategies, regional programmes, and political declarations and agreements.

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Policies and responses

(31) Detailed descriptions of the EU’s internal security policies as they relate to drug supply reduction are the subject of an EMCDDA report: http://www.