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EU-level and international drug policy

Published 3 June 2015.

Today, drug-related crime is highly international and governed by criminal organizations, which underscores the importance of cooperation between different authorities across borders. A great deal of cooperation is taking place both at the EU level and at the international level, aiming to reduce the demand and supply of narcotics and to prevent narcotics-related risks and effects. This article introduces briefly the main actors working at the international level as well as the drug cooperation within the European Union.


International drug control is based on three international drug conventions of the UN: the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, and the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

The UN Commission of Narcotic Drugs (CND) functions under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN. The CND analyzes the global drug situation and makes proposals for strengthening the international drug control system. The CND convenes in Vienna yearly in March. Its activities are based on resolutions and decisions that are accepted through consensus. Consensus decision-making is a decision-making process that not only agrees to the will of the majority, but also tries to take into account the opposition of the minority and to incorporate it into the solution, thus creating the most acceptable and the best possible decision. The CND is assisted by the Vienna-based UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

According to recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), the CND places narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances under international control. In addition, according to recommendations by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the CND also places under control drug precursors, that is, substances that are used to manufacture narcotic drugs. In its current form, drug control can be said to have begun some 40 years ago with the establishment of the international agreement system. The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of the UN together with its addenda limit the manufacturing and sales of narcotic drugs to medical and scientific purposes only. It also establishes international cooperation as a means to prevent illicit drug trafficking. The convention is signed by 178 countries.


The Council of the European Union has adopted a drugs strategy for the years 2013 to 2020, which is implemented according to the action plan 2013–2016. The EU drugs strategy emphasizes a balanced approach and the use of methods based on scientific evidence.

The Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (HDG) is the main forum for the further processing of motions put forward by the Commission and the member states. The HDG coordinates EU activities related to EU drug policy as well as the cooperation between the EU and international organizations and third countries. The EU has its internal system through which new designer drugs can be placed under control in the EU.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) collects from EU member states comparable and reliable data on drug use, drug-related harms, and the means to prevent drug use and drug-related harms to support the decision-making related to EU drug policy. The EMCDDA publishes an annual report on the drug situation in the EU. The EMCDDA has a national focal point in all member states as well as in Norway, Turkey, and Croatia. Together, they constitute the Reitox network. The Finnish focal point is located at the National Institute for Health and Welfare. The EMCDDA also collects data on new designer drugs. In order to monitor new substances, information is collected through the EU Early Warning System (EWS).

The European Council

In the European Council, drug cooperation has been coordinated by the inter-governmental Pompidou Group. The Pompidou Group has several permanent committees and networks. In addition, the Pompidou Group organizes thematic meetings and maintains research initiatives. The Group is concerned with themes such as airport control, drug precursors, drug prevention, treatment, prisons, and drug use at the work place. The group has aimed at harmonizing drug-related concepts and definitions while collecting commensurable epidemiological information on the drug situation throughout Europe.

Limiting the supply

International actors working to limit drug supply include Interpol, Europol, Eurojust, and the World Customs Organization. All of these organizations focus on exchanging information relating to the prevention and fight against crime between national central authorities and on the strategic and operative analysis of the collected information. The joint crime prevention of the European Union is nowadays based on the focus areas selected at the political level based on threat assessments, and these focus areas include narcotic drugs. At the international level, an important actor is also the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Sanna Kailanto
National Institute for Health and Welfare

Jaakko Sonck
Chief Superintendent, Police