Evaluating the EU Drugs Strategy (2013-2020) and Action Plan on Drugs (2013-2016)

Marijuana in the shape of Europe and a joint

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To ensure that the objectives of the EU Drugs Strategy are achieved by 2020, researchers carried out a mid-term evaluation of the strategy and a final evaluation of the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2013-2016.

Their key recommendation was that the European Commission propose an updated Action Plan for the period 2017–2020 that continues to translate the current plan's high-level objectives into concrete action.


Drugs continue to be a complex health, social and security concern in the European Union (EU). Over 80 million adults in Europe are estimated to have tried illicit drugs in their lifetime. This personal use imposes costs on healthcare and criminal justice systems across the EU. Recent years have seen greater attention paid to the apparent increase in new psychoactive substances or ‘legal highs’; the scale of use and health risks of these substances is not yet fully understood and the legal and policy response is still in development across the EU.

The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly have repeatedly highlighted the significant negative impact of illicit drugs on peace, security and development — within the EU and within countries where drugs are grown and through which they are trafficked. The drug trade impacts on the wider society, fuelling violence and corruption and through its links to organised crime.

Addressing the negative impacts of drugs requires pan-European and international cooperation, and the involvement of a number of sectors, including public health, education, security, defence, economics and finance, and justice. The EU and Member States have worked together to develop a European response to the complex issue of licit and illicit drugs production, trafficking and consumption. The first European plan to combat drugs launched in 1990. The current EU Drugs Strategy spans from 2013 to 2020 and, like previous strategies, focuses on the objectives of drug demand and supply reduction, improved coordination, international cooperation and information sharing, monitoring, research and evaluation.


RAND Europe was commissioned together with EY to carry out the mid-term evaluation of the EU Drugs Strategy 2013–2020 and the final evaluation of the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2013-2016. This evaluation had two main objectives:

  1. To assess the degree of implementation of the Drugs Strategy 2013-2020 as well as of the Action Plan on Drugs 2013-2016 in terms of both outputs and, to the extent possible, their impact. The evaluation aims to contribute to ensuring that the objectives of the EU Drugs Strategy are achieved by 2020, by highlighting the areas where progress has been achieved and where further work is needed.
  2. To support the European Commission’s decision on whether to propose a new Action Plan to cover the period 2017-2020 and identify which changes would be needed compared to the current one.


The study employed the European Commission standards or evaluation, examining efficiency, effectiveness, relevance, coherence and added-value of the Drugs Strategy and Action Plan. It was characterised by extensive consultation of the spectrum of stakeholders who play a role in EU drug policy and careful analysis of available data about trends in the EU Drugs situation. Research activities included:

  • An extensive review of relevant EU and Member State data and documents relating to drug markets, trends and Member States’ drugs strategies;
  • Over 90 interviews with representatives from the wide range of actors and stakeholders who play a role in addressing the challenges associated with drugs in the EU, including from all Member States, EU institutions and agencies, third countries, civil society and other stakeholders;
  • An online survey of European External Action Service (EEAS) representatives in third countries, with which the EU cooperates in the field of drugs;
  • Analysis of responses to a public consultation as conducted by the European Commission on the objectives and actions of the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan;
  • Roundtable discussion with and written contributions from members of Civil Society Forum; and
  • Consultation and workshop with expert advisors.


  • Overall, the majority of the actions in the EU Action Plan on Drugs have been implemented and considerable progress has been made with regards to the 15 objectives in the EU Drugs Strategy.
  • There was widespread agreement about the continued need for an Action Plan, as it’s considered to be necessary in translating the EU Drugs Strategy into more precise priorities and actions.
  • The EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan were considered to be relevant to problems identified at the EU and national level at the time of their adoption and continue to address current problems in relation to drugs policy at the EU and national level.
  • The Drugs Strategy and Action Plan were found to be broadly aligned with the objectives set out in other relevant EU and Member State policies and strategies. However, there was scope for greater coherence and coordination in the field of internal security and with key aspects of the EU Health Strategy.
  • The resources available to implement the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan were considered to be sufficient, particularly with regard to drug demand and supply. Perhaps unsurprisingly, stakeholders indicated that increasing resources would ensure the better implementation of actions outlined in the EU Action Plan.
  • The Drugs Strategy provided added value to individual Member States by establishing a common EU-wide strategic framework and developing a process of consensus-building for increasingly complex and international issues. The Strategy and Action Plan appear to add most value in newer Member States, which did not have pre-existing or developed drugs policies prior to their EU accession. The Strategy also added value by guiding drug policy and cooperation with countries outside of Europe, allowing Member States to ‘speak with one voice’ in international fora.
  • Looking forward, there are some issues that might usefully be considered in the run-up to an EU Drugs Strategy for 2020 and beyond. These include responses to new psychoactive drugs, the changing modes of trafficking drugs (including the Internet), ongoing debates about cannabis reform, and a trend towards placing responses to drugs in the context of pan-addiction policies covering licit (such as tobacco, alcohol or prescription drugs) and illicit substances, as well as non-drug-related addictive behaviours, such as gambling.


The evaluation made 20 recommendations, addressed to the European Commission, Member States, the European Council and other stakeholders. The key recommendation was that the European Commission should propose a new Action Plan for the period 2017–2020 in order to continue translating the high-level objectives into concrete action. It was recommended that the new Action Plan should be an updated version of the current one rather than taking on a new approach or introducing more actions.