THE ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICY IN EUROPE
NR. 29. MAY 2007
The no to the European Constitution by a majority of French and Dutch voters in June 2005 meant an important lesson for the political leaders of the European Union. Till then, they had thought that a union between countries was a matter of meetings and buffets. In order to make the European project succeed the EU citizens should be convinced of the fact that cooperation is necessary to cope with tomorrow’s challenges. If authorities are not able to enable citizens to be heard in the decision making process, the whole project will become a desperate failure. “Brussels” will continue to be considered a synonym for an extremely expensive, highly ineffective and unnecessarily bureaucratic giant.
The dialogue with civil society on EU drug policy is becoming a sad example of the way in which official Europe is hiding in self created ivory towers, located miles above grey smokescreens, applying complex and constantly changing decision-making procedures which are impossible to catch up with for experts, let alone for ordinary tax payers.
We are running out of political solutions. Since 1986, clear promises have been made by European authorities to start a serious and open dialogue with involved citizens in European drug policy. Just to name a few recent examples:
“A strategy for strengthening co-operation with civil society in the field of drugs should be developed” (Mid-term evaluation of the EU Drug Action Plan 2000-2004, October 2002).
“A balanced approach towards the drug problem also requires adequate consultation with a broad group representative of the relevant NGO’s and civil society.” (EU Drug Strategy 2005-2012, December 2004).
“In 2007, a budget line will be created to facilitate the efforts to include the demands of citizens and their organisations in the European policies and strategies.” (Final words of European Commission representative Francisco Fonseca, Conference on “Civil Society and Drugs”, January 2006).
The budget line, so we were told during a visit to the European Commissions’ Anti-Drug Coordination Unit on 6 November 2006, would start off in September 2007. A definitive approval would be given in April 2007 by the EU Member States’ Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs. This has not happened. Nor will it happen soon, due to “disagreement on certain parts of the proposal”, as we were told by the European Commission on 19 April.
For the time being, it will remain guesswork to find the cause of this disagreement, which can lead to renewed delay in a process that has been going on for twenty years now. After all the broken promises and empty engagements, also this latest step to involve citizens in the policies concerning an extremely important social issue is becoming a token gesture. Again.
This is not a question of money. Although some support for our organisations would be welcome, non-governmental organisations should never depend on governmental funding in order to survive. Our real interest lies in the fact that in the open and democratic society that Europe pretends to be, affected citizens should be acknowledged as full partners in the official policy-making process.
This is about setting up a serious dialogue between civil servants and policy-makers on one side, and representatives of interest organisations of consumers of drugs, their relatives, scientists, health and social workers, the legal commercial sector and other actors on the other. Based on evidence, following a list of concrete issues, agreements and deadlines that should be respected by all partners. With one sole objective: the improvement of the efficacy of drug policies in Europe.
The more the EU governments keep delaying the dialogue, the stronger the call for an alternative will become. It is up to ENCOD, in co-operation with other European groups and of course the European Parliament, which has so far supported the possibility of an authentic dialogue on drug policies, to develop this alternative.
Sometimes direct actions work better than conventional methods. Cannav^bis Social Clubs such as Pannagh in Spain and Trekt Uw Plant in Belgium are small, but significant steps in the fight to normalise cannabis as well as other drug use in European society. On 25 April Pannagh in Bilbao was given back the cannabis plants that were confiscated in October 2005 during a police intervention against their collective plantation. A local judge ruled that Pannagh should be considered as a legal association, and that the plants had to be returned. On the same day, Trekt Uw Plant won a moral victory in Antwerpen, being acquitted of the accusation “criminal association”. The six cannabis plants that were found with the members of Trekt Uw Plant when they were arrested in december 2006 remain illegal according to the judge, but the association will appeal this verdict.
At the General Assembly of ENCOD on June 22th, 23d and 24th in Antwerp, these and other action strategies will be dealt with extensively. All members are more than welcome.
By: Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster) – www.encod.org