Home > Ireland’s 7th EU Presidency and drug policy.

Pike, Brigid (2013) Ireland’s 7th EU Presidency and drug policy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 46, Summer 2013, pp. 2-4.

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Ireland has earned a reputation for energetically pursuing drug policy issues when holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. For example, the first joint European action on drugs was adopted in December 1996 when Ireland held the Presidency.2 In 2004, during its next tenure of the Presidency, Ireland kicked off the development of the EU Drugs Strategy 2005–2012 with a major EU drugs conference in Dublin.3 During the first six months of this year, Ireland has presented a draft EU Action Plan on Drugs 2013–2016 to the other 26 member states and the EU institutions. Since then Ireland has worked steadily as ‘neutral arbiter’ to win agreement on its contents.4 It is anticipated that all outstanding issues will have been resolved by the time of the June meeting of the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers and that the Council will  adopt the Plan.  

Leading on EU drug policy gives Irish policy makers unique first-hand experience of the international dimensions of the drug problem. They gain a deepened awareness of the similar challenges faced by different countries, the interconnectedness of the issues not only between different countries around the globe but also between the global,  EU, national and local levels. So observes Michael Conroy, head of the Drug Policy Unit in the Department of Health, who has also headed the Irish Presidency Steering Group on Drugs Issues, which comprises a small number of officials drawn from his own department and from the departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Justice and Equality. Set up in early 2012, this steering group has itself been drawn from the larger International Drug Issues Group (IDIG), which meets every quarter to co-ordinate Ireland’s drug policy responses on the international stage.5 Members of the larger group, including representatives of An Garda Síochána, Revenue’s Customs Service and the Irish Medicines Board, have also contributed to the work of the steering group when requested.
EU policy
Work on drugs policy at EU level proceeds via the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (HDG), a working party of the European Council, comprising representatives from each of the 27 member states and based in Brussels.6 The Presidency chairs the monthly meetings of the HDG, organises presentations and seeks decisions. Professor Des Corrigan, formerly chair of Ireland’s National Advisory Committee on Drugs, has chaired the HDG during Ireland’s Presidency.
As well as focusing on the EU Action Plan on Drugs, the Irish Presidency has sought to advance a proposal for EU-wide legislation on new psychoactive substances. At this stage many member states have gone further than the EU in progressing legislation controlling new psychoactive substances at national level. For example, under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, Ireland has banned approximately 260 substances and a further 40 are in the pipeline, and the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 has led to the closure of most headshops in Ireland. By contrast, under current EU legislation only three new psychoactive substances have been banned across all 27 member states and a further two are in the pipeline. Thus, there is not a uniform approach to the control of new psychoactive substances across the member states and it is not possible to effectively control the availability of these substances within the EU. The proposal is expected to revise the 2005 EU legislation,7 and to speed up the process for bringing new substances under control. At the time of going to press, the proposals were still being finalised by the European Commission.8
The Presidency also organises meetings of various EU expert and NGO groups. In April the EU’s national drug co-ordinators met in Dublin for their regular six-monthly meeting (see separate article on this meeting). In February representatives of  the EU’s Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSF) met with the HDG to give their views on the draft EU Action Plan on Drugs. The member organisations of the CSF are appointed for two-year periods, and in June 2013 the members of the newly appointed CSF, including representatives from Merchants Quay Ireland and CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign, will meet in plenary session with the HDG. This further engagement under the Irish Presidency will be the first ever such meeting between the entire membership of both bodies.9
International policy
Beyond its borders, the EU plays an influential role in drug policy at international level, and Ireland has been to the forefront of this work for the first half of 2013. At the 56th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the UN’s drug-policy-making body, which brings together representatives from all over the world to debate drugs policy and its implementation, Minister of State Alex White TD delivered the opening EU Statement at the first Plenary Session. The Minister commented: ‘This is a vitally important conference providing an opportunity to debate policies and strategies to combat the drugs problem worldwide. I had an opportunity to hear the views and experiences of countries from every region of the world. As we address the enormous challenges associated with drugs misuse in Ireland, we must also continue our work in the international context, particularly through the Irish Presidency of the European Council.’ Ireland with the European External Action Service (EEAS) co-ordinated the European input to the CND, including five resolutions sponsored by the EU (see separate article in this issue on the 56th Session of the CND). In a hectic schedule, Minister White also availed of the opportunity at the CND to hold bilateral meetings with New Zealand and Ecuador.
The EU is also engaged in dialogues on the drugs problem with regions and individual countries around the world. In conjunction with the EEAS, Ireland has led the EU representation in meetings with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Western Balkans, and the United States.
CELAC: Ireland is leading EU efforts to agree a joint Declaration on drugs between CELAC and the EU, to be concluded at a High-Level Meeting between the two regions in Quito, Ecuador, in June 2013, which Minister White will co-chair with his counterpart from Ecuador. The first Technical Meeting involving the 27 EU member states and 33 CELAC member states, and co-chaired by Degorah Salgado Campana (Ecuadorian Ambassador to the EU) and Michael Conroy of Ireland’s Department of Health, took place on 17 April. A further such meeting took place in May leading up to the High-Level Meeting in June. This High-Level Meeting will feature a number of thematic debates on current global drugs issues.
This High-Level Meeting follows the ratification of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation CAN–EU Agreement and Joint Declaration at the 11th  meeting of the High-Level Specialised Dialogue on Drugs CAN-EU, held in Quito in October 2012,10 and the Santiago Declaration jointly issued in January 2013 by the EU and CELAC and renewing their ‘strategic partnership’.11 Paragraphs 35 and 36 of the Santiago Declaration commit the two regions to strengthening co-operation on aspects of the drugs issue, including preparations for the 2016 Special Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) on the world drug problem.
Western Balkans: Since 2003 the EU has had a joint action plan with the six countries of the Western Balkans to address drug-related problems in the region. These include the issue of the ‘Balkan route’ used by drug traffickers between Afghanistan and south-eastern Europe. Ireland led the EU delegation at a meeting in February and agreement was reached that the action plan that expires this year would be renewed by means of a Declaration to be signed at a High-Level Meeting in November under the Lithuanian Presidency.12 Work on the Declaration is progressing at the HDG under the Irish Presidency.
United States: The EU meets formally with the United States every six months to discuss drug-related matters. A meeting under the Irish Presidency was scheduled for May. The availability and abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs were anticipated to feature in the discussions.
Dublin Group: This is an informal consultation and co-ordination mechanism for global, regional and country-specific problems of illicit drugs production, trafficking and demand. Its participants include the 27 member states of the EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, the United States, the European Commission and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The group first met in Dublin in 1990, during the fourth Irish Presidency of the EU. It now meets in Brussels every six months. Discussion at the meetings focuses on the production and trafficking of drugs on a regional basis and ways of curbing these activities.3 The Dublin Group is due to meet in Brussels during the Irish Presidency in June.
(Brigid Pike)
1. Thanks to Michael Conroy, Dairearca Ní Néill and Brendan Ryan of the Drug Policy Unit in the Department of Health for generously taking the time to give a briefing on the work of Irish Presidency. This briefing formed the basis for this article.
2. Decision No 102/97/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 1996 adopting a programme of Community action on the prevention of drug dependence within the framework for action in the field of public health (1996–2000) [Official Journal L 019 , 22/01/1997 P. 0025 – 0031].See also T Boekhout van Solinge (2002) Drugs and decision-making in the European Union. Amsterdam: Mets and Schilt. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/3671/
3. Note from the Council of 22 November 2004 on the EU Drugs Strategy for the period 2005–2012 [15074/04]. See also B Pike (2004) Groundwork for new EU Drugs Strategy to be laid during Irish presidency. Drugnet Ireland (10): 1. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11353/
4.  Note from the Presidency to the Horizontal Drugs Group on 3 April 2013 on Draft EU Action Plan on Drugs (2013–2016) [5418/2/13 REV 2].Ireland began drafting the drug action plan in late 2012, and built on the work already put in by the previous holder of the EU Presidency, Cyprus.
5. For the establishment of the IDIG, see Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (2009) National Drugs Strategy (interim) 2009–2016 , Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, paras. 6.92–6.100 and Action 61. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12388/
6. Agendas for ‘Meeting of the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs’ are available at http://register.consilium.europa.eu 
7. Council Decision 2005/387/JHA (10 May 2005) on the information exchange, risk-assessment and control of new psychoactive substances. Official Journal of European Union, L 127/32 (20 May 2005)
8. For details of the European Commission’s work, see Pike B (2012) EU drug policies under review in 2012. Drugnet Ireland, (41): 8. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17269/
9. For further information on the CSF, visit http://ec.europa.eu/justice/anti-drugs/civil-society/index_en.htm  The CSF’s views on the EU drugs strategy 2012–2020 are summarised in Pike B (2012) Alternative ways forward for EU drugs policy. Drugnet Ireland, (43): 8–9. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/18458/
10. CAN comprises four countries in the Andean region – Bolivia, Columbia, Chile and Peru. The EU-CAN High-Level Specialised Dialogue on Drugs was established in the mid-1990s to bring together high-level experts from both sides to exchange views on how best to address the drugs phenomenon and how to co-ordinate efforts.
11. Council of the European Union (27 January 2013) Santiago Declaration. [5747/13. PRESSE 31]
12. Council of the European Union (17 July 2009) Draft Action Plan on drugs between the EU and the Western Balkan countries (2009–2013). [12185/09]
13. T Boekhout van Solinge (2002) Drugs and decision-making in the European Union. Amsterdam: Mets and Schilt, pp. 114–117. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/3671/
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 46, Summer 2013
July 2013
Page Range
pp. 2-4
Health Research Board
Issue 46, Summer 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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