The international drug control cooperation policy of the European Community: a personal view


The international drug control cooperation policy of the European Community: a personal view


Scope and context of the programme
Drugs and development
How to mount an "integrated approach"?
External cooperation against trafficking


Pages: 1 to 7
Creation Date: 1994/01/01

The international drug control cooperation policy of the European Community: a personal view

C. VAN DER VAEREN** Consultant in International Development. Former Head, Unit I/3 - Fight Against Drugs, Directorate-General for External Economic Relations, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels

Scope and context of the programme

The international drug control cooperation programme was established in early 1987 in accordance with directives laid down by the Council of Ministers of the European Communities on 26 January 1987, which set out the scope and general thrust of the policy. In the directives, CEC calls for a "dialogue" with drug-producing countries 'either bilaterally or in the context of their regional cooperation and integration organizations", on "national and regional policies to combat drug production ... and consumption".

Presentation at the Scientific Conference on Policies and Strategies to Combat Drugs, organized by the Commission of the European Communities (CEC) and held at Florence, Italy, from 9 to 11 December 1993.

The author was in charge of international cooperation in the fight against drugs at the Directorate-General of Economic External Relations of the CEC. The present article represents the personal opinions of the author for which the CF-C bears no responsibility.

The directives explain that "the Community intends to undertake this dialogue in the more general context of the economic development of the producer countries and of their cooperation with the European Community", and that the resultant cooperation programme will be carried out by the Community in the general framework of its current and future development aid policy. Among the objectives of the cooperation programme the directives mention the prevention and reduction of drug production and abuse, in line with the priorities of the countries concerned, and "combating drugs under all forms, an extremely wide remit which takes in both prevention and action against illegal trafficking in drugs, drug money etc.

Most of the CEC association or cooperation agreements with developing countries or central and eastern European countries include among their objectives more effective strategies against the illegal production of, trafficking in and consumption of drugs. However, they are "mixed" agreements, intergovernmental as well as EC-based, and some member States refuse to grant to EC competence for cooperation on the drug trade, feeling that this is a matter for their own bilateral cooperation.

Yet that is inconsistent with the position to which the same member States subscribed in signing and ratifying the fourth Lom Convention, article 159 (k) of which envisages EC aid to "help combat drug trafficking at regional and interregional levels". There is thus a degree of ambivalence here, which will be referred to again later.

The directives suggest various means by which the stated aims could be addressed, including:

The directives further suggest, as "prime vehicles" for cooperation measures, "research institutes, non-governmental organizations and producer organizations". They also state that Community cooperation projects or programmes will be coordinated with those of the member States, other donor countries and appropriate international bodies.

  1. Against illegal production, "prevention of drift of the rural population by creating new agricultural and industrial activities, diversification and extension of sources of income in the areas concerned and reinforcement of physical, social and administrative infrastructure";

  2. Against drug abuse, "operations in the field of health, training, education, information and rehabilitation of drug addicts";

  3. To "combat drugs under all forms", the assessment and exchange of experience, enabling third countries to benefit from "information, exchange of know-how and techniques, bilateral and interregional multidisciplinary seminars, and so on".

Drugs and development

Once the worst-affected countries, such as the member States of the European Community, Colombia, Pakistan, Thailand and the United States of America, and international bodies, such as the United Nations International Drug Control Programme, the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, started in earnest to tackle drugs and the related social, economic and political evils, they soon realized that the causes and cures of the different phenomena were closely linked to the general economic and social development process.

Drug abuse has its roots not only in an individual's unbalanced mental state but in social disharmony, whether in comparatively affluent, dominant societies or in poor, marginalized ones. It is also generally accepted that demand reduction and the rehabilitation of addicts must involve an overall improvement in the collective functioning and fabric of society, in employment, the status of women and the protection of children etc., as well as measures targeted at high-risk groups. Further- more, all efforts in that direction must form an integral part of a comprehensive educational, health and social welfare policy.

The link between drugs and development is even clearer on the supply side of the equation. The scope for legitimate, profitable productive activity depends not only on the state of a country's domestic economy, but also to some extent on international economic conditions as they affect markets, prices and credit facilities. Domestic and external conditions together determine what small farmers can earn and how they earn it, as well as affecting macroeconomic monetary and financial policies.

In a sense, drug-producing countries are in a situation comparable to that of European countries faced with the prospect of industrial con- version because of the competitive decline of a particular activity, such as parts of steel and textile production, or agriculture, or because of falling demand, for example, for weaponry. Different criteria and different interests dictate that the arms trade is legal and the export of cocaine or heroin is illegal, but each is intrinsically immoral. Another difference is that the industrialized countries are able to mobilize domestic resources for industrial conversion and gain time for the process by means of temporary, digressive protection. Drug-producing developing countries lack the necessary capacities and negotiating weight. They are dependent on those countries which not only lay down the rules of international law, but also control the allocation of financial resources and the rules of world trade, and with them the possibilities of development.

Even illicit trade has an impact on the development process, not only in producer countries, but in those which earn substantial revenues as centres for drug trafficking or money-laundering. The influx of drug money outside the control of the monetary and financial authorities distorts real - and official - exchange rates, with the result that the currencies of the countries concerned are artificially overvalued and their legitimate domestic industries cannot compete on international markets. The Government, on the other hand, can use the windfall to help the balance of payments and service the external debt, though at the cost of further structural vulnerability.

This aspect of the drugs and development issue is common to both drug-producing and drug-trafficking (transit) countries. However, the eradication or reduction of the illegal income-generating activities causes fewer conversion problems in the transit countries; in the producer coun- tries, on the other hand, a section of the population more or less depends for a living on the illegal growing or processing of drugs.

A brief consideration of the three focal areas of drug control activities - consumption, production and trafficking - suggests two conclusions. First, the Community is right to see its anti-drugs strategy as part of its development policy; and second, it is justified in directing that cooperation towards "combating drugs in all forms", including trafficking and money-laundering. All three aspects of the trade are inextricably linked.

How to mount an "integrated approach"?

The need for an integrated approach to drug control is now well accepted, and was endorsed by the international community with the adoption of the Global Programme of Action by the General Assembly at its seventeenth special session, in its resolution S-17/2, annex, of 23 February 1990. The Global Programme of Action calls for balanced strategies that are comprehensive and multidisciplinary in scope, aimed at combating all aspects of drug abuse and illicit trafficking, including illicit demand for narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, cultivation of illicit crops and illicit drug trafficking and misuse of the financial and banking systems. The European Plan to Combat Drugs approved by the Council in December 1990 likewise advocates concerted action to combat drug addiction, the illicit production of narcotic drugs, and the distribution and sale of drugs.

The fight against trafficking is therefore a vital aspect of drug control, at once easier and, paradoxically, more difficult than demand reduction and measures to combat illicit production. On the one hand, action against trafficking is less costly in social terms than repressive measures against a host of individual addicts who are sick rather than criminal, or the forcible eradication of banned crops grown by hundreds of peasants, often in marginal areas. In another sense, however, it is more difficult to stamp out an activity controlled by a small number of highly mobile major-league traffickers with vast wealth which gives them access to powerful weapons and means of persuasion. To complicate matters further, the traffickers may share common interests with other influential sections of society. Particularly widespread is the collusion, involuntary or otherwise, of wealthy tax evaders who promote and protect the existence of tax havens, thus providing the machinery to launder drug money under cover of the banking secrecy laws.

Unless tougher, more consistent and better-organized international action can be mounted against trafficking, tens or hundreds of billions of dollars will continue to be poured into the war against drugs without rooting out the evil. The potential profits are so enormous that major traf - fickers will always have an interest in stimulating demand and production.

If the political will is lacking for a real onslaught on trafficking, the only realistic alternative would be to decriminalize the production, sale and possession of drugs, and to devote considerably more resources to the campaign against drug consumption. Most Governments, however, are reluctant to contemplate such a "solution", fearing that it would lead to an epidemic of abuse as drugs became more widely available at easily af fordable prices.

The status quo thus remains. Decriminalization, in any case, would certainly be counter-productive if it were simply the product of defeatism, a loss of faith in the ability of repressive measures to produce significant results. It has to be seen as a constructive measure which allows resources and effort to be switched from repression to preventive education, better social conditions and rehabilitation of former addicts.

The difficulty would then be that such a positive measure designed to reduce consumption and return it to normal social channels would need to be adopted worldwide, even and especially in the poorest countries, where education and health services are underdeveloped and underresourced. Otherwise those countries would be even more exposed to the scourge of drugs than richer and better-organized ones have been. It suffices only to look at the legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol, where the success of developed countries in cutting consumption by preventive and remedial campaigns has led transnational corporations to target their sales pitch on the developing and newly industrializing countries instead, creating lucrative addictions.

At the moment, experts as well as politicians remain divided on the relative merits of decriminalization versus the status quo. Cooperation in the fight against drugs must therefore take place within the existing legal framework. An integrated approach will involve more effective support for measures to stamp out all forms of trafficking, including illegal trade in drugs, diversion of precursors and the laundering of drug money. The overall EC policy on drugs needs to cover all those aspects. The Maastricht Treaty, once it comes into force, will clarify the division of responsibilities in that area, and extend the available options both within the European Union (Title VI) and in cooperation with non-member countries (Title V).

Even if EC were to acquire no additional powers to combat drugs internally, it could still help non-member countries in their fight against trafficking on the basis of the directives of 26 January 1987. External cooperation is possible even in the absence of corresponding internal powers, as the fourth Lom Convention shows.

External cooperation against trafficking

One point remains to be considered: what aspects of the fight against trafficking could or should EC international cooperation activities address?

EC already supports various measures to curb money-laundering activities. Essentially it provides technical assistance with the introduction of new legislation and new techniques to detect suspicious financial trans- actions and trace the origin of funds. It also helps with the training of officials who will have to apply the new laws and investigative techniques. So far, however, CEC has not extended its cooperation activities to the law enforcement side, for instance by providing training for police officers or magistrates involved in drug investigations or prosecutions.

The same applies to the diversion of precursors and essential chem- icals to illicit drug manufacture. Technical assistance and training projects have dealt essentially with regulatory measures and techniques aimed at controlling trade in sensitive products and identifying suspect consignees.

Community cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking proper has focused on the provision of training for customs officers and other personnel responsible for spotting suspicious goods or behaviour and the supply of investigatory tools, including sniffer dogs, forensic laboratories and logistical equipment.

It is vital, of course, to uncover the illegal activities and limit the harm they can do. Equally essential, however, is the need to ensure the prosecution and conviction of traffickers and confiscation of their profits so as to deter other potential criminals.

Clearly, the effectiveness of a country's law enforcement system depends more on national morale and political factors than on any financial and technical cooperation. The most advanced equipment, legislation and investigative skills are of little use if the authorities are too frightened, helpless or venal to act. That is where the EC concept of a policy dialogue could make a difference, especially if it is backed up by material incentives to render the work of police, customs and magistrates less gruelling and more efficient. Here is one way in which EC cooperation could usefully be developed.


EC anti-drug cooperation activities would be much more effective overall if they could tackle the nexus of the problem by helping the countries concerned with all aspects of the fight against trafficking, including the enforcement side.

Broadly speaking, in terms of overall strategy, the emphasis should be on two main areas: prevention of drug abuse, coupled with a relentless attack on trafficking. EC cooperation resources specifically earmarked for combating drugs should be focused on those two areas. The other two issues - treatment and rehabilitation of addicts and crop substitution operations - come under the heading of general cooperation, in the context of public health and economic development activities.

Prevention and prosecution obviously go hand in hand. In order to curb demand, everyone, not just those in high - risk groups, must be alerted to the terrible dangers of drug abuse - the personal and, even worse, the social risks.

Civil society in its entirety must be mobilized against the scourge, maintaining tight control over drug consumption by individuals and helping ensure that they are protected against traffickers. And there must be the will to bring the machinery of criminal justice to bear with its full force against the perpetrators.