ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR 56 OCTOBER 2009
REMEMBERING JAN VAN DER TAS
Ten months after a brain tumor was found, former Encod Steering Committee member Jan van der Tas died on 10 September 2009.
Jan van der Tas was born in The Hague in 1928. As a young man he lived through the horrors of the Second World War, which in his case meant hunger and the fear of being caught and forced to work in German factories.
After a short stay in the Dutch Navy, Jan started his professional career in 1960 as a civil servant in the Netherlands diplomatic force in Brussels. Dating back to the “founding fathers” of the European Coal and Steel Community, which later became the European Union, he gained wide experience.
“We hoped to find formulas to not only avoid a new war, but instead gather all talents in Europe and make them collaborate constructively in order to design policies that would bring prosperity. This seemed to be a beautiful theory, but with the years we have seen how separated interests of countries, companies and individuals have killed the spontaneity behind it”.
After holding positions in Indonesia, France, Mexico and the United Kingdom, Jan became ambassador of the Netherlands in Syria and Germany, before he retired in 1993. It was Rita Süssmuth, member of the German Christian Democrat Party CDU and chair of the German Parliament, who inspired him to start his second career as a drug policy reformer. Referring to the liberal drug policy that the Netherlands had become famous for since the end of the 1970s, she had told him that “it is good to know that your country can be a pioneer in finding solutions for social issues, which larger, slower countries are not yet capable of.”
Drugs were completely foreign to him, but a deep interest in the subject of drug policy came naturally to him during his tenure in Bonn, which coincided with prolonged diplomatic troubles on that subject between Germany and the Netherlands. His personal favorite psychoactive substance was legal: beer, especially Belgian beers like Duvel. Repeated suggestions to try at least one of the range of other drugs that are available, albeit not legal, didn´t convince him.
His interest in the drugs issue was intellectual and principled. He continuously refined his opinions and statements. He combined this with a thorough knowledge and understanding of the workings of the bureaucracies in The Hague, Brussels, Vienna, and New York. To many of us who told him about plans for activities in Brussels, he explained the complicated structure of the European Union, and spiced this with anecdotes from his years in the diplomatic service.
“We should not have a European drug policy at any price. A top down integration of the different ways drugs are considered in the various countries could mean that effective approaches based on public health will be sacrificed for an agenda that is essentially oriented towards public order and the fight against crime. At the same time it would be a good idea if the European Union starts to form a counterweight to the US pressure on the United Nations to continue on the current path. So we need a set of common principles, in which we accept that we cannot agree on all things, but still respect each other.”
Jan served as a member of the board of the Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation for many years, and of ENCOD’s steering committee between 2005 and 2007. He was a driving force in the activities of both organisations, especially where it concerned the lobby field.
“We need to create a situation in every country in which citizen organisations try regularly to participate in the drug debate by giving well argued and formulated reactions to any particular event or development on drug policy that reaches the media. We should create a common data base of reliable arguments that people can use as soon as they have the opportunity.”
Goodbye Jan. We’ll very much miss your stimulating presence and warm personality.
Fredrick Polak and Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)