ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR 71 JANUARY 2011
THIS IS NOT A DIALOGUE
In the past weeks, we have had some trouble answering the question whether or not – and if yes, under which conditions – Encod should continue to participate in the EU Civil Society Forum on Drug Policy. That is no surprise. This question is deeply related to another one, namely which role should Encod play: that of a lobby group or a political movement? To answer that question, it is necessary to know something about the origins of Encod.
In 1991, the European Commission initiated the process that was supposed to lead to a single uniform European drug policy. The author of this concept was French president François Mitterand, who dreamt of a Europe that would determine its own drug policies independent from those of the United States. During two years, several conversations took place with hundreds of academic experts and organisations working in the drug field allover Europe. As a result, it became clear that in order to repeat good experiences and avoid bad ones, European drug policy should be based on evidence, not on ideology. The first pillar of evidence would be established through the collection and comparison of statistical data, the second through an open and transparent dialogue with affected and concerned civil society.
In March 1993, the European Commission organised a seminar in Paris in order to create a European platform of NGOs working in the drug field that would serve as a counterpart in the process of EU drug policy making. As a result of that seminar, Encod was founded.
In November 1993, the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction was established in Lisbon. With a yearly budget of approximately 10 million euro, the EMCDDA has since then produced an great number of reports containing statistical data on almost every aspect of the drug issue in Europe.
From these data an important conclusion could be drafted: the theory that drug prohibition is necessary to reduce the demand and supply of drugs had been falsified. In countries where prohibition had been relaxed, supply and demand had not increased. What’s more, it was exactly in these countries that the few successes in the fight against drug problems could be noted, such as a reduction in drug related diseases and deaths.
However, while the evidence on EU level indicated that prohibition is the wrong answer to drug problems, EU authorities did everything to avoid the debate on this conclusion. In spite of several engagements to set up an adequate consultation with affected and concerned civil society made in EU Drug Strategies, Action Plans and other official declarations since 1993, a serious effort to put it in practice has yet to be made.
At the only two EU summits on drug policy to which Encod was invited, in February 2000 and May 2004, our input was limited to a 5 minute session, after which some government representatives openly expressed their complaints about the fact that “the legalisation lobby had been given the floor”.
We then decided to carry out an intensive lobby campaign towards the European Parliament, with success. In December 2004, the EP approved a set of recommendations towards the new EU Drug Strategy including the establishment of a concrete mechanism for dialogue with civil society in order to increase its role in drug policy. This appeal was strenghtened during a Public Hearing that Encod organised together with the EP Committee on Civil Liberties in May 2005.
As a response to the EP report, Carel Edwards, head of the Anti-Drugs Unit of the European Commission, wrote on 17 December 2004 that “the dialogue will start in 2005, well prepared and structured. I foresee, without committing myself, that we can make this in the second half of the year.”
In January 2006, the European Commission organised a conference on “Civil Society and Drugs“. Approximately 60 participants, among them 17 Encod members, together delivered a clear message to the European Commission: “Considering the great public impact and interest of the drug phenomenon on the European public, it is urgently necessary to elaborate a solid plan for a sincere and constructive dialogue between authorities and Civil Society Organisations on the design and implementation of drug policies on both national and EU level”. The response of European Commission representative Francisco Fonseca was that “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 on drugs.”
The first part of that promise was honored. Since September 2007, the European Commission is entitled to invert 1 million euro per year on dialogue with civil society on drug policies. But it remains unclear what this money is spent on.
The only visible result of this budget has been the establishment of the so-called Civil Society Forum on Drug Policies in the EU. But what’s happening in the four sessions of this forum that have been organised since can hardly be called a dialogue.
First of all, there are many questions about the representativity of each of the 26 organisations that take part in this forum. The Commission is unwilling to share the motives upon which these organisations are selected. It is impossible to know who these organisations really represent, and what their statements are based upon. Some of them do not appear to have any membership or rules about decision-making, and seem to be maintained by one or two people with access to one exclusive sponsor.
The bulk of these organisations is formed by so-called “service providers”, health professionals that receive their funding from local, national and/or European authorities, for programmes to treat and prevent health problems related to drug use. As such, it is not in their nature to criticise authorities. The question can be raised to which degree people who depend on public funding can represent civil society.
The rest of the CSF membership is shared among organisations lobbying for the maintenance of drug prohibition (among others related to the Scientology Church) and organisations working for drug policy reform.
The European Commission has organised the CSF in such a way that a debate on the fundamental course of EU drug policies is avoided. Every effort in this direction has been silenced by the Commission representatives, explaining that “Member States would never accept any recommendation in this regard”. No representative of EU governments has ever been present at the sessions, or shown any interest in its conclusions.
Of course there is nothing to complain about the material surroundings in which CSF sessions (of 1,5 day) are taking place, with participants travelling first class to Brussels, staying in hotel rooms of 250 euro/night, and meeting programmes printed on glossy paper. But these conditions can not compensate the fact that it is impossible to obtain any coherent statement from the CSF on the direction that EU drug policies should take, let alone to make any progress in the direction of a real dialogue.
The sessions of the CSF cost approximately 50.000 euro each. That means that in the past 4 years, 950.000 euro / year that should have been spent on a dialogue with civil society on drug policies has been used for other purposes. The Commission has not been able to explain which. One of the other purposes has been the organisation in 2009 of a so-called European Action On Drugs, a propaganda campaign to warn European citizens on the dangers of drugs, that was designed solely upon the request of governments, without any consultation with civil society organisations.
Encod has on various occasions tried to obtain explanations from the Anti-Drugs Unit of the European Commission on the future of the dialogue. We have not received any clear answer, apart from the statement that “the European Commission has limited mandate to act on the global drug policy field. Member states have autonomy to decide which drug policies they will adopt.”
So here we are, almost 20 years after the first idea of a European drug policy was launched. While the evidence that results from comparing the data is overwhelming that this policy should be based on a different basis than total prohibition, the EU institutions have put all their efforts into ensuring the status quo and avoiding debate.
With the Civil Society Forum in its current situation, without transparency on participants, structure, the way it is funded, objective and expected impact on EU drug policy making, there is no hope for improvement. When we continue to participate in this way we run the risk of becoming complicit to this status quo, such that the European Commission can now claim to have consulted “affected and concerned” civil society. Whereas in reality, the CSF is an expensive way to tell civil society, “represented” in part by fake organisations and health workers looking for EU grants, that it won’t have any impact at all on drug policy.
Meanwhile, in the past few years Encod has evolved from a lobby group of a few NGOs into a movement of people who wish to challenge drug prohibition concretely, in words and actions. In a meeting of the Encod Steering Committee in the end of December we decided to postpone the final decision on our participation in the CSF to the Encod General Assembly in June 2011. Meanwhile, we will work on a list of pros and contras regarding the decision, that will be presented to all Encod members in the springtime, so that everyone can make an informed decision on this matter.
The big question remains how to influence the national government level. After all, we know since the European Parliament Hearing of 8 december that the EU will not oppose any initiative of a national country to take the next step in the reform and relaxation of prohibitionary drug laws. Therefore a coordinated strategy between Encod and its members is necessary. Let’s use 2011 for that purpose.
Happy New Year!
By: Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)