ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR 70 DECEMBER 2010
SHOULD WE STAY OR SHOULD WE GO?
Since December 2007, ENCOD has participated in the so-called “Civil Society Forum on Drugs in the European Union”, a yearly meeting of 26 organisations that have been selected by the European Commission. Three sessions of this Forum have taken place in December 2007, May 2008 and March 2009, and the fourth session is planned for December 2010.
In January 2011, a new application has to be made to be part of the CSF during the next two years. The Encod members who are most involved in the CSF (President Frederick Polak on one side, coordinator Joep Oomen on the other) have a fundamentally different opinion on the question of whether Encod should seek to renew its membership to CSF or not.
In this bulletin, both views are presented. Later this month, all Encod members will be asked to vote on this question.
WE SHOULD STAY
During the preparations for the upcoming meeting of the Civil Society Forum, CSF, our first objective was to get “regulation on the agenda”. There was much resistance against this proposal, but during the meeting of the so-called core group of the CSF on 8 November, it was fully supported by INPUD and accepted by the other groups.
My view is that it is an important step forward that this issue now is on the agenda of the CSF. It will be discussed in a workshop and the results will be brought to the plenary CSF.
This is the first part of what we wanted. I don’t see what we win by doing what Joep advises: get out of CSF. Why should we leave right now, when we have won the fight over the issue of “regulation on the agenda”?
The issues that Joep mentions as his reasons to get out of CSF (the lack of representativity of the CSF members, the question who and what they represent, the financial situation, the domination by the EC over the whole process) are important questions, but they are mostly procedural. We regularly denounce these practices, but it is a waste of our time to focus too narrowly on these issues. These are not the right reasons to leave the CSF.
Encod must primarily focus on advocating and promoting just and effective drug policies, like our name says. In the upcoming CSF meeting we don’t need to gain immediate approval. We want to get a serious debate started in the CSF about regulation – even when it surely will be flawed. We’ll need all our energy to make sure that the debate on drug policy will be conducted in the right way, so that meaningful conclusions can be drawn.
The outcome of the upcoming CSF should be that this subject will be taken up for more thorough study and discussion, with the purpose to get it included in the input of the CSF for the next EU drug strategy.
After the meeting of the CSF on 13 and 14 December, we need to get clarity on our goals and strategy, because we must decide whether we want to continue our participation in the CSF, or quit.
I believe that the decisive factor should be: will the CSF continue with the subject of alternative policy so that this will be the start of serious discussion or study. If yes, it would be foolish to leave the CSF. If this demand of ours will not be met, there still can be a debate about what will be the best policy.
Therefore, I propose that soon after the CSF meeting of 13 and 14 December, I’ll send a short report about the meeting, about the consequences, and about our options.
We have to decide on the course of our policy in the coming years, and it is a good thing that we still have some time to think it over. In the mean time, our members can discuss the issues at the Encod site or the eurodrug list.
WE SHOULD GO
For years Encod urged European authorities to open up a sincere and open dialogue with citizens affected by drug policies in order to introduce some common sense in the official circles dealing with drug policies in the EU. Mostly thanks to our lobby, the European Parliament in 2007 instructed the European Commission to allocate 1 million euros per year for organising the dialogue with civil society on drug policies. After three years I have come to the conclusion that the European Commission has highjacked this idea, by converting it into a purely symbolic instrument designed to silence in stead of strengthen the voice of citizens. Why?
1) The Civil Society Forum is a toy of the European Commission
The Commission has used most part of the money for the dialogue for their own projects, such as propaganda campaigns against drugs, designed without any consultation with civil society organisations. The remaining part is used to organise one meeting per year, of one and a half days for approximately 40 people, held in the most expensive surroundings. The participants at these meetings have been selected by the Commission on criteria that are never made public, the agenda of these meetings is determined by the Commission, and the Commission’s representatives on these meetings play a dominant role in steering the conversations. They are solely responsible for the final report, which is then sent to the so-called Horizontal Drug Group, which coordinates the drug policies of the 27 EU Member States.
From the beginning, the European Commission has done everything possible to avoid a meaningful debate on drug policies in the framework of the CSF. Every single effort to discuss the heart of the matter, whether current drug policy in Europe is justified by the evidence, has been thwarted by the representatives of the Commission. In its reports on the CSF, the Commission always gives a false image of consensus and agreement with the current policies, meant to please the Member States, some of which have expressed their concerns with the existence of the CSF.
2) The members of the CSF are not representative of European Civil Society
The organisations that are part of the Civil Society Forum are not obliged to present any proof that they effectively represent those they claim to represent. Some basic research by Encod has shown that at least two of the current CSF members are in fact representing local authorities (which do not fulfill the criteria of a civil society organisation), while there are a considerable number of organisations in the CSF that do not appear to have any membership at all. For example, one CSF member appears to be a one man office claiming to represent a network of 12 European psychiatrists of whom at least one has ceased to exist in 2004.
Organisations of health providers (social workers, treatment specialists etc.) are overrepresented in the CSF, mostly due to the fact that they already receive regularly EU grants for their projects and as such have developed a privileged relationship with the European Commission. Their participation is motivated by the search for more EU funding, as this is expected by the people they represent. As such they have no inmediate interest to criticise the European Commission, or confront it with the terrible effects of the policies it defends.
3) The Civil Society Forum will never have any impact
The main challenge in European drug policy is the elaboration of a 5 year European Drugs Strategy. The Civil Society Forum will be asked to produce a set of recommendations on the next strategy, that will be prepared by the European Commission in 2012. These recommendations will be made completely in vain.
In 2008, the European Commission produced a profound evaluation report by top researchers Peter Reuter and Franz Trautmann (Report on Global Illicit Drugs Markets 1998-2007). According to the report, control efforts have had minimal effects on the global illegal drugs market, the annual value of which is estimated at 300 billion US dollars. At the same time prohibition is a major cause of the increase in violence, corruption, environmental and health damage. These problems are responsible for the death, disease and serious deterioration of life standards of millions of people, consumers, their surroundings and society at large.
In spite of having paid for this report, neither the European Commission nor the EU Member States undertook any effort to discuss its conclusions or the questions that might be justified by them. We have no knowledge of any parliamentary debate having taken place in any of the 27 EU countries on the conclusions of the Reuter/Trautmann report.
It is extremely unlikely that any kind of policy reform recommendation coming out of the Civil Society Forum, in the remote case that its current members would ever agree to such a text, would generate more impact. The Civil Society Forum is not meant to have any impact. It is designed as a hollow façade to legitimise the so-called “consultation with civil society” on a policy that is not meant to be subject to consultation with parliament members, let alone with people with expertise in the field.
4) The CSF is an expensive chat-room
The three sessions of the Civil Society Forum that have taken place so far have been completely ineffective and costly encounters (these meetings cost around 60.000 euro each) between a randomly chosen group of people without any clear agenda or method to measure the success or failure of the dialogue. They seem to be designed basically to please the ego’s of the participants, not to make any of the so badly needed progress in the European drugs debate. Let’s get out of there, and fast.