REPORT ON THE THIRD SESSION OF THE CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM ON DRUG POLICIES IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
Brussels, 3 & 4 March 2009
By INPUD, UNAD and ENCOD
This was the third session of the Civil Society Forum (the two earlier sessions took place in December 2007 and May 2008).
The session was mostly dedicated to gather the feedback of the CSF on the new Action Plan on Drugs (2009 – 2012) including the proposal for a “European Alliance on Drugs”, that the European Commission plans to launch in June 2009.
A proposal of Encod to install an independent moderator had been admitted. The role of the independent moderator (Ton Coenen, Foundation Aids Fund) was greatly appreciated by the participants. The moderator did not hesitate to change the agenda in function of the interventions and the direction the dialogue was taking.
At the end of the meeting it was decided to form a core group of 6 representatives to agree with the European Commission on the agenda of the next session of the CSF in a meeting. To this group, the following organizations were admitted: EURAD, IREFREA, INPUD/IHRA, CORRELATION, EHRN and ENCOD.
List of Participants:
Romanian Harm Reduction Network
FOUNDATION FOR DRUG FREE EUROPE,
DRUG POLICY ACTION GROUP
CIVIL ASSOCIATION PRIMA
Tuesday 3 March
The CSF took off with a plenary session with presentations of the European Commission on the new Action Plan on Drugs (2009 – 2012). On behalf of the Commission, Maurice Galla presented the new Action Plan, stating that this plan reflects the “unity in diversity” that characterizes drug policies in the European Union today.
The main challenge for the European Union continues to be to gather the results of drug policies in the various member states, select the good and bad experiences and make them visible for policy makers, so important lessons can be drawn.
In the short “Questions and Answers” session that followed, we tried to obtain an explanation for the fact that the official evaluation on the 10 years after UNGASS 1998, that was ordered by the European Commission to an independent commission of scientists in 2008, had not been published yet. We had heard that this report would be critical on current policies, and in view of the fact that this evaluation should have been used to prepare the UN High Level Summit on Drugs in Vienna of 11 and 12 March, this delay is quite crucial.
According to the Head of the EC Drugs Unit, Carel Edwards, the report was not meant as an evaluation, and its publication should be separated from the UN Summit. When on 10 March, the report was published, it appeared that we were right, and the timing of the publication was chosen in such a way that its content could not be taken on board in the UN meeting.
Afterwards, Mrs. Paola Tardioli of the European Commission presented the new idea of the European Alliance. The objective of this Alliance would be to obtain a large number of commitments of organisations, companies and individual citizens. Through these commitments people would support the central idea of the Alliance, “to raise concern on the risks related to drugs”, and formulate their own initiative that the Commission would then endorse by publishing it on a website or giving resources.
The proposal was met by most participants with great scepticism. Many said they did not understand the sense of such an agreement, as it seemed to consist of a wide range of intentions without substance or content. Almost all participants expressed their disagreement with the name chosen for the initiative. An alliance should be the end result of a process, not the beginning.
Given the failure of the presentation, the moderator then proposed to continue in working groups to try and create a better understanding of what could be a consensus in this regard, and afterwards present it in the plenary session. In both workshops it was agreed that the name of the alliance should be changed in “Campaign”. In one of the workshops the representative of the Commission accepted the change of name, but in the other group the Commission responded that the name had been chosen and could not be modified.
During the plenary session presenting the results of the workshops it was decided to postpone the decision and send out a questionnaire that should be responded by all participants before 16 march.
The last day, in the evening, a new working group took place to discuss the alliance. Many organisations, INPUD, UNAD and ENCOD included, declared again that for them it was impossible to sign such an agreement in the way it was presented, in terms of an alliance. INPUD and ENCOD strongly argumented that even in the case that the change of name is accepted and the initiative is called campaign, the focus on the “drug abuse” and “the problems related to the drug use” mentioned in the questionnaire could contribute to increase the stigmatisation of drug users even when one of the goals is “to promote respect and support for rather than stigmatising people struggling with drug problems”, since they would lead to the invisibilisation of non-problematic drug users. They also emphazised the need to let drug users speak by themselves.
In the final session, a round of interventions took place on the general perceptions and interests of participants in the Civil Society Forum, in order to prepare a discussion with the Commission that would present its ideas on how to continue with the CSF on Wednesday.
The following proposals were presented:
1. More transparency in the selection of the participants in the forum
2. Extension of the forum to more participants.
3. More information on the impact of this forum to policy-makers. The agenda should be made in collaboration with the participants.
Wednesday 4 March
The day started with the presentation by the Commission of the history of the CSF and future perspectives.
With regards to the issue of transparency in the selection of participants, the Commission insisted that this had taken place in a democratical way and in respect of the criteria that had been developed. Every organisation that had been rejected from the CSF had received an explanation of the reasons why. However these reasons were not made public, and this did not occur either with the reasons for inclusion of the 26 organisations that are inside the CSF.
With regards to the extension of the number of participants, currently some 30, the Commission had stated in the preparatory papers that a possibility would be to extend the number to 250. However, in the meeting the Commission explained that it would be impossible to pay for the travel and accomodation costs of these many participants.
The yearly budget of the Commission for this Forum is 100.000 euro. The cost of organising a meeting of the CSF in its present form is 50.000 euros, so two meetings per year can be organised. With 250 participants, several participants should pay for themselves. The announcement that the budget for 2009 was already dried out, and that therefore the next session would be held in the start of 2010, generated quite some doubts among the participants.
It was suggested that we should make an official request to the Commission to explain in detail the budgettary situation for 2009. Encod can initiate such a demand and will try to obtain the signature of all other participants.
Among others, INPUD and ENCOD insisted in the need to involve the information and experience of organisations that work “on the ground” in the drug field, enphasizing that the voices of drug users should be better represented, including INPUD and other drug user networks as formal members of the CSF.
Some participants proposed a hybrid solution, establishing two groups: a formal Forum of 40 organisations (fitting the EC budget), and a group of participants who could assist to the Forum but not obtain funding from the Commission. Finally it was decided to postpone the decission to the next meeting, which would be held with the current members.
In spite of all the efforts of the Commission to make the CSF participants feel comfortable with this exercise, the overall feeling is that the instrument is still highly ineffective, even if very small steps have been taken forward. The key question, what is the true impact of this Forum on drug policy making, remains unanswered. The impression is that the CSF is essentially an informal feedback group which is used by the Commission to try out some ideas, and collect comments that it can use for already established political purposes.
The sessions are enriching in the sense that the participation of the members is real, no restrictions at that sense. But the fact that each recommendation of the Forum needs to be approved by the Commission first before it can be made public, strengthens the feeling of inoperance or futility.
Some participants felt that the sphere inside the forum is evolving positively, that even prohibitionist organisation show the same reaction to the way things are going as anti-prohibitionist. In private conversations, we are making progress. Prohibitionists start to respect our statement that it would be impossible for us to suscribe to a document in which all drugs use is considered dangerous.
However, others detect a new division between organisations in the forum. In this division, two groups can be identified:
1. those who are genuinely interested in defending their members’ interests and wish to make sure their presence has a clear identifiable impact on policies
2. those who are basically interested in maintaining a work relationship with the Commission, that will give fruitful results in terms of subventions for work programmes.
Every time the first group seems to reach some agreement on a possible concrete form in which the results of the CSF meetings can be published (for instance a report that can be added to the annual EMCDAA report), members of the second group are very quick to re-act that they think such an effort is useless “as we could never agree on a common text anyway”.
This makes it relatively easy for the Commission to continue the way it is organising the CSF: dividing and ruling…..
The positive news is that the launch of the “European Alliance on Drugs” will probably be cancelled. At least it became clear that there was no support for this idea in the Civil Society Forum.
It remains to be seen when and how the next CSF will be organised. We will follow up with a request to the Commission for details on the budget.
INPUD – ENCOD – UNAD
The strategy towards the EU CSF will further be discussed at the ENCOD General Assembly in Barcelona in June.
You can give your opinion in our survey: