THE ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICY IN EUROPE
NR. 37 JANUARY 2008
A SLICE OF THE CAKE
After years of broken promises and engagements to open up a sincere consultation of citizens with regards to drug policy, finally the big day had arrived on Thursday 13 December 2007. The European Commission had invited the representatives of 26 organisations to Brussels in order to participate in the first meeting of what was to be called “Civil Society Forum on Drug Policy in the EU“.
Of these 26 organisations, 2 represent local authorities, while 17 are formed by service providers (agencies providing harm reduction, treatment and prevention, mostly working with state or European funding). Not more than 7 are organisations made up of citizens, with more or less independent funding.
The organisation of the meeting was so chaotic that 4 of the 26 invited organisations were not able to come to Brussels. The background documents, which every participant was supposed to have read before the start of the meeting, arrived by e-mail on Tuesday morning 11 December. They contained a document of 90 pages, plus 7 links to websites that were to be studied within the next 46 hours, taking into account that people had to travel to Brussels and sleep. As a result, none of the participants had been able to prepare themselves, let alone to consult their members.
The meeting itself took place in a true atmosphere of “EU” hospitality: conference papers printed in luxury covers, a nice lunch and a 5 star hotel room left nothing to be desired. On the other hand the Commission had made sure that nothing could happen that would escape its control.
We were told by the Commission that the way the forum had been organised and the organisations selected was definitive; there would be no possibility to change that. And we were told to leave any ideological debates out of the room, as this would make the meeting “ineffective”. We were then divided into working groups that would make recommendations on texts which would have no binding obligation for any authority to carry out.
In these working groups of course no dialogue was taking place. Most “civil society” participants appeared happy to issue comments that they knew would be ignored anyway, assuming their role as “professional expert” rather than that of “concerned citizen”. The majority of participants did not question the instructions of the representatives of the European Commission, who also took great effort in explaining that they themselves carried no responsibility for drug policies at all.
Obviously, most people were interested in the budget line of 3 million a year that the European Commission has offered to civil society organisations (at least a combination of two partners) in order to work on “Drug Prevention and Information” projects. From January 2008 onwards, organisations can send their applications which, if approved, will lead to concrete funds in December 2008, at the earliest.
The possibilities of receiving a slice of that cake obviously undermined any effort by participants to propose something the Commission would not agree with. When the Commission’s financial officer told participants that the screening process for grant applications would be “very harsh”, it sounded as a bizarre warning. While citizens are faced with an apparatus that is acting highly unprofessionally, they themselves are expected to live up to the highest standards of professionalism when it comes to funding applications.
Given the reputation of the Commission on transparency, it is unlikely that anvbody whose application is rejected will ever receive a proper explanation for that. This is the all too easy way in which political manoeuvres frustrate bottom-up approaches.
On 24 and 25 January 2008, in Budapest, another consultation of civil society will be held, this time in relation to the NGO Forum “Beyond 2008” that the official UN Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs is organising in July this year. This forum will be part of the official “year of reflection” that is planned to start after the March 2008 meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna.
Like harm reduction, involvement of citizens could well become a new tool to “sex up” the public image of drug policies. The organisers of this kind of consultations make sure that mainly people are involved who are happy just because of their involvement, without any intention to use these encounters to discuss anything at all. As a result, the concept of “civil society consultation” can easily be used to further legitimise their policies.
On the other hand, this kind of dialogues is perhaps one of the few possibilities to “contaminate” the official debate. Any message that is well prepared could lead to improve the situation for some people. At least it will not do harm to anyone.
For the moment ENCOD will continue to participate in the consultations at EU and UN level. But we will also organise our own events, in order to give the UN something to reflect upon.
From Friday 7 to Sunday 9 of March 2008, the days prior to the UN CND Meeting that starts on 10 March, all those citizens who wish to send a clear message of hope for an end to the war on drugs are expected in Vienna to participate in the events that ENCOD is organising. The programme, which will become public by the end of January, will include a symbolic gesture to the UN as well as a conference on the harms of prohibition and the benefits of ending it.
By Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)