Report on the first meeting of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs, organised by the European Commission
13 & 14 December, Brussels.
By: Virginia Montañes and Joep Oomen
Should ENCOD continue to participate in the EU Civil Society Forum? Participate in our survey (see below on this page) or have your say on ENCODs position in the next session of the CSF, on May 20th and 21st, 2008.
The meeting took place in the Building of the Committee of the Regions in Brussels.
Of the 26 organisations invited, only 22 were able to make it to Brussels. One of them (Eurasian Harm Reduction Network) had invited INPUD (International Network of People Who Use Drugs) on their delegation, so in all we were 23 organisations:
FOUNDATION FOR DRUG FREE EUROPE,
DRUG POLICY ACTION GROUP
Observers were the Cyprus government, EMCDDA and the European Parliament.
The meeting was hosted by the Anti-Drugs Unit of the European Commission, led by Mr. Carel Edwards.
Carel Edwards started the meeting by offering his sincere appologies for the chaotic way the meeting had been organised. He referred above all to the fact that the participants had only received the documentation (of more than 90 pages) for the meeting on Tuesday 11 December, less than 48 hours before the meeting. He did not comment the other problems, like the lack of transparency in the selection process or the lack of information on the purpose of this meeting. This lack of information caused problems for at least 2 organisations (DRUGSCOPE and IHRA) that could not come, and for all others that did not have time enough to involve their members in the debate. Edwards admitted that this was a weak starting point and promised that “it will not happen again.”
The chaos in the organisation only affected the content of the meeting, since the logistics were perfectly taken care of: the documentation was printed on luxury folders (for all together 25 copies) and participants stayed in a 5 star hotel. Probably, the total costs of the meeting were between 10.000 and 15.000 EURO.
We were told that the European Commission does not have any authority to carry out drug policies: this remains a responsability of the Member States. Therefore we were asked to leave the ideological debate out of the room and to focus the discussion on evidence-based arguments. Carel Edwards then stated that, contrary to other continents, “there is no war on drugs in Europe”. He provided no evidence to this statement.
Edwards told us that for the Commission, the purpose of the meeting was to receive input from civil society: information, experiences and comments on how “we are doing”: with which he referred to the EU Action Plan on Drugs for 2005 – 2008: the total of actions that the European Commission and the Member States have agreed to carry out in order to reduce the drug problem in Europe.
After this introduction, each civil society organisation was given approx. 3 minutes to present itself. Afterwards, the Commission presented 3 issues that were to be discussed in working groups that took place the whole Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. After these working groups there was a short plenary session to inform about the results of the groups and then 1 hour of conclusions before the meeting ended on 13.00.
Some organisations, among them ENCOD, made a proposal to use at least one hour of the programme to enable participants to meet amongst eachother and exchange information outside the programme directed by the Commission. However, when Carel Edwards then asked if there would be anybody opposed to this proposal the representative of the Foundation for a Drug Free Europe raised his hand and Edwards quickly moved on to dismiss the proposal.
The 3 issues presented by the Commission were:
1. Programme on Drug Prevention and Information )
The Commission will make a call for proposals for civil society organisations at the beginning of 2008. Organisations can make applications for financial support for
Transnational actions that are aimed to set up networks, increase knowledge base, raise awareness, drug use prevention, monitor, implement and evaluate EU Action Plans
Involve civil society in the implementation and development of the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plans.
Monitor, implement and evaluate the implementation of specific actions under the Drug Action Plans 2005-2008 and 2009-2012,
There will be a budget of max. 3 million EURO/year (except this year 2007, as the Commission has already spent 750.000 euro on consultancy work (a comparatative analysis of drug-related research in the EU and a detailed analysis of the way the global illicit drugs market operates and has developed over the last ten years). The remaining 2.250.000 euro will be passed to 2008.
Once the call for applications will be opened (in January 2008) every interested organisation has a period of two months to apply.
The rules for obtaining funding will be: project duration of max. 3 years, EU funds up to 80% of total eligible costs, the minimum requested EC grant is 75.000 euro.
2. Progress Review on EU Drug Action Plan 2005 – 2008
This is the mid-term evaluation of the current Action Plan on Drugs that is carried out by the Commission and the Member States between 2005 and 2008.
The working group was composed of around 20 people. After a short explanation on what was expected from us (to comment the 90 pages progress review that had been sent to us two days before), the group was split in two groups to make the discussion more operative. The general feeling of the participants was that they didn’t know very well why they were there and what should be the outcome.
Still, everybody did their best to contribute with comments on a document that they had not read, not to mention the fact that they had not been able to consult with their members. The participants tried to comment every objective of the report, but this was impossible. So it was decided to propose a new meeting on the same issue in which people would have time to prepare it, so they could contribute with proposals, and better flow of communication in between the meetings.
The following recommendations were also presented to the Commission:
It is necessary to guarantee the participation of the users and community groups in the implementation of the action plan, at all levels and in the forum.
There is a need to clearly define the terms used in the action plans and the progress review.
The evaluation should be based on qualitative data, not only on quantitative indicators, as it is now.
Innovation should be present in the plans, evaluation of innovative policies and approaches is needed at all levels.
The hidden populations are not present in the report, it is necessary to ensure that they have access to the services.
It is necessary to strenghten the public health approach.
3. Recommendation on Drugs and Prisons
A paper handout was provided on an upcoming recommendation of the European Union towards the policy on drugs in prisons. This recommendation is not binding, so the governments of the Member States do not have to follow it. Furthermore, it is known that prisons are mostly islands ruled by their directors, and it is very difficult to make them introduce new measures.
So in the prison working group it felt like being locked in a theatre play. There was no possibility to speak freely about the issue, for instance by putting the question on ways to reduce the number of prisoners by decriminalisation – this was considered to be an ideological debate. We spoke about ways to ensure harm reduction on drug treatment facilities, on aftercare systems for ex-prisoners and other more technical issues, well aware that whatever we said would probably have no effect at all on the policy making process.
Efforts to discuss the poor human rights situation of drug users in prison (with extreme cases of recent deaths in Italy and the system of collocation in Belgium, where drug users are locked away as psychiatric patients after they have served a sentence for an offense) were blocked by the Commission as not having any “European added value”. We finally agreed on the recommendation to install common standards for treatment and harm reduction in all prisons in the EU.
The last hour of the meeting (again in plenary session) was then used to discuss the forum itself.
Especially INPUD and ENCOD representatives criticised the lack of transparency and clarification about the structure and functioning of this forum. The Commission responded that this is the way the forum is organised and nothing can be done about it. Carel Edwards said that the Member States are opposed to the participation of Civil Society in the policy making process, and that this was one of the reasons for this chaotic way of organising the meeting
It was proposed to organise a new meeting within three months where the action plan 2005-2008 and proposals for the new action plan 2009 – 2012 would be discussed. Carel Edwards promised to do whatever he could to organise this meeting under better conditions, and asked us to start to prepare it since we already know the subject: the 2005-2008 Action Plan and the draft of the new AP.
We asked the Commision to comment the status of the Catania report and the implications for the action plan. The answer was that the Member States have decided they will not carry out the recommendations of this European Parliament report (which go in the direction of regulation and harm reduction).
ENCODs role in this forum could be that of expressing the voice of citizens who are directly affected by the policies on drugs and are not or underrepresented in the other organisations: consumers of cannabis and other drugs, their relatives, health workers, people working in the legal industry related to drugs, as well as independent experts and activists.
ENCOD has the right to remain in this forum until 2009, when there will be made a new selection of candidates, who can apply again regardless if they were in or out this time.
However, we, the two ENCOD members present in the forum, believe that if the next meeting is not organised in a proper way, ensuring transparency with regards to the participants at the meeting, giving participants time to prepare and consult their members properly, then we should not participate in this “dialogue” anymore.
Of course the final decision on this will be taken by the ENCOD General Assembly (either in Vienna in March or in Vitoria in June).
On 31 January 2008 the European Parliament started the discussions on report concerning the Civil Society Forum.
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