In the autumn of 2004, the EU Horizontal Working Party on Drugs, the formal decision-making body in the European Union when it comes to drug policies, had the task of elaborating a new EU drug strategy (2005-2012). On different occasions, the official documents of the EU institutions have stressed the importance of consultation with civil society organisations in the elaboration of drug policies. This motivated ENCOD to send a letter to the Chairperson of the EU HWPD on 30 August, containing a proposal for a sincere dialogue on the new strategy. This proposal was ignored, despite repeated efforts to insist on the need for it on 28 September and 22 October.
Letter of 22 October 2004
To the members of the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs:
In the past months, we contacted you on two occasions (30 August and 28 September), in order to present you a proposal for a concrete moment of dialogue between policy-makers and civil society representatives concerning the new EU Drug Strategy.
On 18 October, the office of the chair of the Horizontal Drug Group (at the Dutch Ministry of Health) has informed us of the fact that our proposal will not be taken into account as it does not fit in the procedure of the meetings of the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs.
This decision ignores one of the eleven aims of the EU Strategy on Drugs for 2000-2004, agreed upon in the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, which called for encouraging the involvement of civil society.
It also ignores one of the key recommendations of the mid-term evaluation of the current Action Plan in 2002, which called for a conference to be organised in 2004 to involve civil society in the future development of EU Drug Policy.
It ignores the draft version of the new strategy issued by the Dutch presidency on 30 June 2004, which mentioned that “a balanced approach to the drugs problem also requires adequate consultation with a broad group representative of the relevant NGOs and civil society”.
And finally, if the new European Constitution which will be signed on 29 October 2004 would be in force already, it would violate this Constitution, as according to this Constitution, authorities should “engage in an open and transparent dialogue with civil society, and conduct hearings with affected groups”.
As you know, EU citizens are very concerned about drug problems ( drugs constantly rate highly on the ‘Eurobarometer’ public opinion survey), and are entitled to be told what progress is being achieved in reducing these problems, not just what actions have been implemented. Likewise, EU citizens who are directly or indirectly affected by drug policies are entitled to receive the opportunity to participate in the design of future policies.
ENCOD is a platform of 86 European organisations composed by citizens affected and concerned by drug policies. We defend the interests of millions of European citizens, who do not dare to use their freedom of expression and publically out themselves as users of illegal drugs, and express the opinions of many more who feel that current drug policies in the EU should be reviewed urgently.
As demonstrated by experiences on a local level, where authorities are in more direct contact with citizens and more directly concerned with the impact of drug policies on the lives of people, these policies tend to be more effective in accomplishing the objectives than EU strategies have been thus far.
Therefore, we regret this decision and hope that in the near future, a decent consultation process with civil society will form a substantial element in EU drug policies. We are convinced this consultation will contribute to the success of the Action Plan. Increasing NGO involvement in the design and implementation of drug policies is a crucial tool to make EU drug policies more transparent and more accepted among citizens.
On behalf of ENCOD,
Letter of 28 September 2004
To the members of the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs:
Dear members of the EU Horizontal Working Party on Drugs,
On 30 August, we approached the Chairperson of the EU Horizontal Working Party on Drugs with a proposal for a sincere dialogue with civil society organizations on the new EU Drug Strategy that has to be approved at the end of 2004.
We believe this dialogue should be considered as a logical follow up after the participation of some NGOs in the most recent EU summit on drugs in Dublin, in May.
After this summit, the Dutch Presidency on 30 June 2004 published a first communique on the new EU Strategy, which among others stated that “a balanced approach to the drugs problem requires adequate consultation with a broad group representative of the relevant NGOs and civil society. Especially in the process of drawing up action plans, their advice should be taken into account.”
On Monday 27 September, we received a first response on our letter of 30 August, stating that “as the drafting process of the new Drug Strategy is in a preliminary phase, we cannot give you any details on the state of affairs.”
In the coming days, on 30 September and 1 October, the Horizontal Working Party will meet again. We would like to use this opportunity to repeat our proposal for a dialogue with civil society before the definitive strategy is formulated, and add some comments explaining the urgency of our concerns.
There are enough indications that until now, EU Drug Strategies have not been able to meet their objectives. There is a lack of insight into the effectiveness of the applied measures. There is little coherence between policies at a local and a (supra) national level. And most of all, there is no dialogue between policy-makers and civil society affected or concerned by the drug issue. The current process that should lead to the formulation of the new EU Drug Strategy is an excellent opportunity to have this dialogue between authorities and the involved civil society.
In fact, in the mid-term review on the current EU Action Plan on Drugs, produced in November 2002, it was recommended to develop a strategy for strengthening co-operation with civil society in the field of drugs and organize a conference in 2004 to involve civil society in the future development of EU Drug Policy. To our knowledge, no such strategy has been produced and no such conference is planned.
The reluctance to engage meaningfully in debate with experts and citizens can be explained by the need to avoid sensitive issues that need to be discussed. Considering the great public impact and interest of the drug phenomenon on the European public, however, it is concerning to see governments and institutions try to deflect attention from the negative outcomes of their policies rather than promoting an open debate on the lessons that can be learned from them.
We are very willing to support the policy-making process towards coherent drug policy strategies in the EU. In the first communication of the Dutch presidency on the new Strategy we have come across several elements that we would like to comment on. However, we are concerned with the conditions under which this contribution will take place.
EU authorities should take the issue of drugs seriously, and carry out the decision-making process in a transparent way. The process of making drug policies can benefit from taking into account the experiences that are gained on the street level in Europe on a daily base. Initiating a process of dialogue with relevant civil society organizations, in order to enable them to take part in the design and the implementation of the EU Drug Strategy would be the right thing to do. It can not stay an issue that is only mentioned in declarations of intentions, for the sake of political esthetics.
We sincerely hope that our proposal can be discussed during the next meeting of the Working Party and look forward to your answer.
On behalf of the ENCOD Steering Commitee
Letter of 30 August 2004
To: Mr. S. Bersee, Chairperson of the Horizontal Drug Group of the European Union
Mr. J.L. Bourlanges, Chairperson of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs of the European Parliament
Mr. Carel Edwards, Head of the co-ordinating Drugs Unit of the European Commission
Members of the Horizontal Drug Group of the European Union
Members of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs of the European Parliament
Representatives of the Drugs Unit of the European Commission
30 August 2004
Dear Madams, Dear Sirs,
We are writing to you as Members of ENCOD, a European Platform of 83 Non-Governmental Organisations who are affected and/or deeply concerned by current policies on drugs. Our member organisations represent millions of Europeans: drug users as well as non-users, grass-roots activists, researchers, health practitioners, officials, parents, development workers, etc.
Since 1993, we are working together in order to develop detailed proposals for alternative approaches to the issue of illicit drugs, based on local experiences and expertise gained by being connected to the daily reality for millions of people in- and outside Europe, who are the target of drug policies.
We watch with interest the historic opportunity that the European Union will have in the coming months, when a new EU Drug Strategy and Action Plan will have to be agreed upon for the period until respectively 2012 and 2008.
We were invited to the first summit in order to prepare the discussion on this new Strategy, which took place on 10 and 11 May 2004 in Dublin. Our representative was allowed to speak for 6 minutes during a plenary panel discussion in the morning of the first day. However, the response he received did leave serious doubts about the willingness of EU authorities to engage in a true process of dialogue and participation of civil society in the development of a new Strategy on Drugs (see our report on the Dublin summit).
Therefore, through this letter, we wish to present you our proposal to have this dialogue, and to express our hope that it could take place in a concrete form sometime between now and January 2005, when the new EU Drug Strategy should be agreed upon.
We believe we can make a relevant input to the design and the implementation of the new EU Drug strategy. This strategy should be based on reality, and it should include honest answers to questions concerning costs and benefits. We raise these questions, but also develop possible answers.
For instance, one of the crucial problems with the current national and EU drug strategies is the harm caused in the area of social exclusion. We think drug strategies should counter social exclusion, and we have some specific suggestions to put this in practice.
We understand that dialogue and participation of civil society in EU Strategy on Drugs was one of the main objectives of the former Action Plan, as it will be in the new. However, we feel strongly that there needs to be created facilities for dialogue and participation, both in the phase of preparation as well as implementation of the strategy. Otherwise it will remain a cosmetic concept.
ENCOD has two concrete proposals for the process of dialogue to continue.
We propose the Chairperson of the Horizontal Drug Group, in collaboration with the European Parliament and the European Commission, to invoke a concrete moment of dialogue between now and January 2005. The aim of this dialogue should be to facilitate a sincere input of civil society organisations to the debate on the essential guidelines for the future EU Drug Strategy, as well as on the role that civil society can play in the implementation of this strategy.
We also propose the Chairperson of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament to speedily adopt a particular budget line that is adressed to the facilitation of a constant dialogue process between EU policy makers and civil society representatives on the drug issue.
We would be very honoured to hear from you, and provide you with more details about this request if necessary.
On behalf of ENCOD, its 83 member organisations and many Europeans, we thank you for your attention.
ENCOD Steering Committee
Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt, United Kingdom
Fernanda de la Figuera, Spain
Farid Ghehioueche, France
Dasha Ocheret, Russia
Joep Oomen, Netherlands
Bruno Valkeneers, Belgium
EUROPEAN COALITION FOR JUST AND EFFECTIVE DRUG POLICIES (ENCOD)
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