FRESH AIR IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Carel Edwards, Head of the Anti-Drugs Unit of the European Commission, receives a peacepipe from an ENCOD delegation. The pipe was a donation from ENCOD Member ROOR, Germany
Some initial conclusions
The hearing was a good reflection of the situation of the current drug debate: voices in favour of change dominate this debate, as they are coming from people who combine expertise with representativity: either inside the institutions (like Bob Keizer from Pompidou Group / Council of Europe), local authorities (Mayor of Maastricht Gerd Leers), independent experts or civil society organisations. On the other hand, there are no real responses coming on the demand for urgent measures to reduce harm from drug policies by changing them completely.
ENCOD members and associates were filling half of the room. Most Members of the European Parliament Committee were absent, following a call from the Christian Democrat Party to boycot the event. This in spite of the fact that they had been involved in the organisation of the hearing from the beginning and had been allowed to deliver two speakers (one of who did not show up). So this decision did them no good, as there will now be little support to their proposal to produce a new EP report on the Drugs Action Plan (which would certainly have been more repressive than the Catania report of last december) in the coming months. This danger has now almost certainly be neutralised.
The rest of the room was filled by some journalists, one or two members of the HDG group and some assistants to MEPs. Because there was no money to invite people, it was clear that mostly those who were close to Brussels could come: Belgians, Dutch, some French and Germans and quite a big group of people from Italy.
So there went a fresh air through the European Parliament, and for the first time in history it was allowed that people from the audience took the floor to ask unusual questions or tell unusual stories (unusual of course for EU bureaucrats). For instance, total silence fell over the room when Mefisto from Rome told the story of Giuseppe, a 23 year old man from Southern Italy, who a few months ago had been taken for growing three plants of marihuana in his backyard and had become so stigmatised in his village, that he ended with taking his life.
It was a pity that so few officials were present, as the fact that this was an official Hearing of the European Parliament LIBE Committee, made that there were interpreters working in all EU language (including Lithuanian, Estonian etc.) where this was not necessary at all. In one morning more than 25.000 EURO was used only on interpretation – a bit cynical detail if we keep in mind the financial situation of ENCOD.
It was also a pity that there were few MEP’s as they were not able to witness the problems that the representative of the European commission, Mr. Carel Edwards, had to answer to the key question that the ENCOD speech had posed him: what about the engagement of the European authorities to involve civil society in its drug policy making, made time and again in official documents and confirmed again in the Catania report? Can it be made concrete in the coming months in the case of the new Action Plan?
Edwards said no, and he also said that it would be impossible for him to explain why. He said that the discussion demonstrates that there is confusion about this issue, and there is little that “Europe” can do as there is no consensus among the national governments. He said we are punching above weight because we try to reach at EU level what we have not obtained at national level, that the European Union has in fact a very narrow basis which is to try to bring consensus, and that they have to act “extremely carefully”.
With this answer, he made clear that in fact Europe is changing already when drug policies are concerned. There is at least no consensus about which direction future policies should go – no consensus about prohibition either (this was confirmed Monday 26 april by the declarations of Dutch minister Pechthold saying he is in favour of cannabis legalisation in Europe).
Besides, Edwards also made clear that Europe has no strategy to strengthen the role of citizens associations in this issue (where it has on many other issues where there is also no political consensus: human rights, migrants, development co-operation). Authorities know that a bottom up approach in drug policy will almost surely lead to the end of prohibition – and the higher you come up the power structures, the more this scenario scares people.
After Edwards, Giusto Catania made the last speech of the hearing where he made clear that even speaking on drugs is a taboo now…
After the hearing we presented the peacepipe to Edwards, and reminded him of the request for a meeting with him before the Action Plan will be officially adopted (end of June). He did not really answer that question, but we expect him to do it in the next future. He took the pipe (a bong) with a smile (which has been put on film by Thorri and another film crew from Germany) and said he would put it at the office. Let’s see if some white smoke will come out of it in the coming weeks..