ENCOD will participate among 500 representatives of European civil society in the AGORA ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE, to be held in the European Parliament on 8 and 9 November 2007, and present the following statement:
Since the early 1990s, the European Union has tried to develop a European Policy concerning the production, distribution and consumption of illegal drugs. This is certainly not an easy task:, as Europe is a patchwork of different national drug policies, with huge differences between countries and even regions. However, it is a very important one, also seen in the light of the European unification process and the involvement of civil society therein.
The European Union offers an excellent opportunity to compare the impact of different policies and facilitate the exchange of information and experiences with good and bad practices. As such, co-operation in the field of drugs policy, both between countries and between institutions and civil society organisations, may help to develop effective approaches without making too many avoidable errors in the process.
In spite of several official engagements made by the European Council and Commission to strengthen the co-operation with civil society in the field of drug policy, concrete initiatives to establish these co-operation mechanisms have been few and poorly implemented. The ways in which these initiatives have been organised leave much to desire in terms of a transparent and participative approach.
The adoption and implementation of subsequent EU Drugs Strategies and Action Plans take place in a complete political vacuum. It is widely acknowledged by experts as well as official evaluators that no significant progress has been made in any of the targets that have been set by European Union institutions in the field of drug control over the past 15 years. Nevertheless, there has been no serious debate on the need to redefine these targets when adopting new strategies and action plans.
When formulating the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2005 – 2009, the European Commission completely overlooked the recommendations of the European Parliament that were formulated in the Catania report of 15 December 2004. It also chose to ignore the many recommendations from experts, civil society organisations and local authorities from allover Europe who had presented a plea to start applying innovative approaches in European drug policy in the springtime of 2005.
Current drugs policies in the European Union have as basic aims the reduction of demand and supply of drugs, in order to protect public health and public safety. When evaluating these policies, we should look at how we address problems in these two fields. The conclusions of this evaluation should then allow improvements in the decision-making process, increasing the effectiveness of future programs.
The current evaluation system of drug policies in Europe does not measure the cost/effectiveness of current policies. It is essentially focussed on the rise and fall of consumption or seizure rates. The negative effects of drug policies on public health and community safety are not taken into account.
The experience of civil society is opposite: the problematic aspects of the drug phenomenon both in terms of public health and public safety are mainly felt due to the impact of drug policies, less to that of drug consumption itself.
Any kind of evaluation of public policies should spend attention to the impact that these policies have on the situation, so lessons can be learned in order to correct approaches with an undesired effect and strengthen those with a desired effect.
The report of the latest meeting of the European Union Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (composed of government representatives from the Member States as well as the European Commission), that took place in September 2007, in Lisbon, Portugal, clearly shows the problem of the European Institutions to recognise this situation.
The report reads as so many other documents that are released by “Brussels”: it is impossible to discover a clear vision other than the objective of maintaining a political status quo, “in which everything remains as it is and none of the super salaried bureacrats has any problems ever“. (comment of Peter Cohen, University of Amsterdam)”
The report repeats the good intentions of the past: it mentions the “importance of evaluation as a tool to promote evidence-based approaches and organisational learning” as well as “the need for the use of complementary and reliable evaluation methodologies that can contribute to a more comprehensive and in-depth understanding of interventions under evaluation, appropriate to each stage of the process“. Of course also the report considers “the involvement of stakeholders as very important“. But as before, these intentions are not accompanied by any concrete examples of how the European Union will implement these intentions.
It also repeats the same mistakes: once again the European Institutions avoid the crucial issue in the drug policy debate: to develop concrete indicators on the basis of which a scientific process can take place that monitors and evaluates the impact of policies on the drug situation in Europe. Only such a process could deliver results that can be accepted by all possible stakeholders and help to improve policies and programmes that can be supported by civil society actors.
ENCOD remains interested in a genuine dialogue with all civil society and institutional stakeholders that will lead to the improvement of the EU drugs strategy and the way it is evaluated. Since our foundation in 1993, we have been calling for such a dialogue to start. In december 2007, the European Commission will take the initiative of a EU civil society forum on drug policy, a two day meeting to which the Commission has invited 30 representatives of European civil society organisations. From what we now know, the selection of these representatives has not been politically impartial, and has led to the exclusion of drug user organisations and other important actors from the debate.
We will follow carefully the way this dialogue is being set up and followed up. The detailed structure of the dialogue should be decided upon in a participative manner. It should respect the diversity of all existing networks and organisations. The proportional presence of various stakeholders and the accessibility for any European citizen to channel comments and suggestions to this forum should be safeguarded during the entire process.
However, in view of the current approach, we are concerned that also this forum will become another lost opportunity.
To build confidence among its citizens the European Union should above all show transparency and effectiveness in its policy making processes. Europe should show the courage to decide to do all it can to start procedures that will slowly end Drug Prohibition. And replace it by systems that allow adults a legally regulated access to all recreational drugs, nation by nation according to their varied cultural histories.