Press release on the EU Conference on “Civil Society and Drugs, 26/27 January 2006
Drugs and drug problems are among the issues that concern EU citizens most. Not only because they relate to public health and safety, but also because until now, citizens have had no possibility whatsoever to be consulted in the elaboration of drug policies.
Due to the fact that in 1961, a UN Single Convention on Drugs has prohibited a number of plants and related substances with mind altering effects, millions of citizens around the world have been killed, tortured, imprisoned, stigmatised and/or ruined for growing, trading or consuming them.
EU governments started to work out the concept of a European drug policy in 1990. Since then, several official commitments have been made to involve civil society in the design and implementation of drug policies. Yet these commitments have never been put into practice.
On Thursday 26 and Friday 27 January 2006, the European Commission has invited a limited number of EU civil society organisations to a Conference in Brussels, to discuss how civil society can contribute to the implementation of the present EU Action Plan on Drugs (2005-2008). This plan was designed and adopted (in July 2005) without any serious consultation of civil society.
According to ENCOD (European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies), a platform of 120 Civil Society Organisations from 24 European countries, the Conference means two days to build Rome.
ENCOD will present a statement to the Conference that calls for an independent body to supervise a dialogue process with equal conditions for civil society and authorities.
ENCODs coordinator, Joep Oomen, says: “Until today, EU authorities have been trying to close the box of Pandora that has been created with the prohibition of drugs. By keeping the citizens away from the decision-making forums, they thought they could hide the truth about the war on drugs: that is a costly, failing and counter-productive affair.”
According to Oomen, it remains still to be seen whether the Conference will mark the start of a sincere dialogue between citizens and authorities on drug policies. “It is now well understood by a growing number of EU citizens that legal regulation of the drugs market would improve the living standards of millions of people, while significantly diminishing one of the world’s major criminal income sources. These ideas could start to challenge traditional ways of thinking drug policies at a European level, and it is not sure that EU authorities are willing to cope with this”.
In December 2004, the European Parliament approved the Catania report, a set of recommendations towards future EU drug policy. This report proposes a radical change in EU drug policy and advocates harm reduction and a scientific and balanced approach in stead of maintaining drug prohibition. However, the report was completely ignored in both the EU Drug Strategy for 2005-2012, designed by the European Council of Ministers, and the EU Action Plan for 2005-2008, designed by the European Commission.
Since March 2005, ENCOD, that is funded entirely by the contributions of its members, organised a petition among EU citizens in favour of the integration of the Catania report in the Action Plan. In a few months, the petition collected more than 60.000 signatures.
“The two day Conference will be enough to get a clear indication if the EU Commission is serious about its commitments this time”, says Oomen. “Citizens allover Europe are organising themselves to get rid of this absurd regime. At a time where the European Union has huge difficulties to bridge the democratic deficit with its citizens, its current drug policies are an extremely negative example of what kind of democracy the European Union pretends to be.”