ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
TOWARDS A BETTER EUROPEAN RESPONSE TO DRUGS?
On 25 Oct. 2011 the EC published “Towards a stronger European response to drugs”, a “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council”.
The EC communication can be summarised as: “We need more of the same, no explanation needed.”
I think we must protest against it for a number of reasons.
The EC simply announces their decision that the “response to drugs” must be stronger, and better coordinated between the EU countries. The text does not explain why the “European response” should need to be stronger, and not, instead, of a different nature.
The most striking thing from this “communication” is that although it does contain some data from the EMCDDA, no mention is made of the Reuter/Trautmann Report, entitled “Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998 – 2007”. This thorough report, commissioned by the EC and paid for by European taxpayers, concluded (in short and in my words) that the international efforts to fight drugs have produced serious damage all over the globe, without signs of compensatory positive effects.
Like many other addicts, the EC operates from a position of denial, as if no sane person could argue for legal regulation, and as if there is no reason to consider alternatives.
The authors of the communication have done a bad job of analysing the existing situation. As a consequence of their desperate clinging to prohibition, what they produced is a new example of fact-free policy.
In the last few years a growing number of former heads of state, ministers, and high public officials have expressed their opinion that the war on drugs must be replaced by a system of legal regulation. This also happened at the EC itself. I see no reason to avoid the embarassing fact that soon after his retirement, Carel Edwards, the predecessor of Mrs Dana Spinant (Head of the Drugs Coordination Unit of the European Commission), joined one of the major organisations that advocate the end of prohibition, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is an international organisation, started in the USA among former and active police officers and people working for the Justice Dept.
This is not an initiative of the EC staff. They know there are no compelling arguments for an intensification of the war on drugs. This can only be an initiative of the responsable Commissioner, Viviane Reding, herself and/or of the EC as a whole.
One reason may have been the recent change in the authorship of the new drug strategy. The drug strategy for the next period will not be written by the EC, but by the Council. The Council will be presided over by Denmark in the first half of next year, and by Cyprus from 1 July onwards.
Also, the Commissioner is, or should be, aware of the fact that it will be increasingly difficult to avoid open discussion of alternative policies than prohibition. If the EC does not give an opinion now, she will only get a chance later in the procedure, but the EC wants to steer it from the start like they have been used to do.
In its effort to inform the EP and the Council, the EC could better have said the following:
We feel it is our duty to confront you with the severely diminishing credibility of current drug policy. The last instance, as we hope you noticed, is the report published by the Global Commission on Drug Policy in June 2011. In Nov. 2011 the conclusions of this report were undersigned by new groups of people, many of whom experienced responsibilities in drug policy. The report has a short but very relevant list of references, which gives a clear picture of the lack of positive results from UN drug policy, which form the basis of EU drug policy.
We must inform you that the demand for debate and for a review of prohibitive drug policies will get stronger, and is based on better evidence than a prolongation of prohibitive policy. The Civil Society Forum on Drugs of the European Commission, which we hope will support a debate on EU drug policy, cannot be expected to agree. It is as divided as the real world.
Probably, similar words were said in closed meetings and in private contacts.
The “communication” from the EC is a sort of pre-emptive strike, to try and force the European Council to agree on a more intensive strategy quickly and without any critical thinking. In the communication, the EC announced a public questionnaire on its website, which has started already. It contains mostly administrative questions, but also leaves room, for comments. It seems the EC wants the Council to make up its mind before the results of the questionnaire and of the ongoing civil society consultation become public. It is well known in Brussels, as elsewhere, that the demand for a different drug policy is growing, especially among people who know more about it than average, and that it will become more difficult to avoid this debate within the EC. The intended “stronger response” will cause even more “unintended” harm, and will not be easier to undo.
ENCOD is planning to protest against the EC plan, with friendly organisations and with the help of Members of the European Parliament.
We still hope that we will succeed in organising the badly needed debate on alternative drug policies at the EU.
By Frederik Polak