On 15 June, the European Commission organised a meeting of the core group of the EU Civil Society Forum on Drug Policy. Encod is a member of this group (together with Correlation, Irefrea, INPUD, EHRN and EURAD).
The core group was formed during the last session of the CSF in March 2009.
In the invitation for the core group meeting, Carel Edwards referred to the objective of the meeting as to “facilitate the joint work on the agenda of the CSF”.
Correlation was represented by Eberhard Schatz, Irefrea by Amador Calafat, INPUD by Elliot Ross Albert and EURAD by Anders Ulstein. The representative of EHRN could not attend. The European Commission was represented by Carel Edwards, Maurice Galla, Timo Jetsu and Andrzej Kosnikowski. Fredrick Polak and Joep Oomen represented ENCOD.
The moderator of the meeting, Carel Edwards, proposed to start with a brainstorm of abstract ideas on the future of the CSF. He said that the aim of the CSF in the coming 18 months would be to “make a formal and public contribution to the new EU Drug Strategy” (which will be adopted by EU Member States and European Parliament in the end of 2011). Edwards suggested we could either try to look for consensus amongst all of us or try to accept our diversity. Without delay, all speakers agreed that we should do the latter. It would be impossible to reach unity amongst organisations, some of which are formed by drug users, and others which consider drug use as a disease. Some of those present said we should all take a flexible attitude and leave the trenches.
Then the Commission stated that European drug policy needs creative and innovative ideas, and that by tradition these come from NGOs. We responded that during the past meetings of the CSF these creative proposals (such as reduced law enforcement activity to accompany harm reduction activities – proposed by the CSF session of May 2008) have been completely ignored by the European Union. We claimed also that in order to formulate these creative ideas, the CSF should become more transparent. Its agenda should include proposals from the CSF members themselves, and not only from the European Commission, such as is the case today.
The discussion did not lead anywhere conducive to progress or agreement. We were waiting for the moderator to start the topics of the meeting (the first one being the agenda of the next CSF), but this did not happen. When we as Encod made a modest effort to speak about the agenda, the Commission judged we should talk about membership.
Consequently we expressed our doubts about the current selection procedure for membership of the CSF. This procedure has led to 2 organisations being members of the CSF – ECAD and EFUS – in spite of the fact that they represent local authorities and therefore cannot be considered as representing Civil Society. The Commission responded that it is impossible to discuss the selection procedures. They admitted that the selection was the result of a political negotiation with the Member States, some of which are afraid of the CSF because of the influence that civil society may have on the political debate on drugs in Europe.
We then suggested that next time, all 77 respondents to the first call for applications to the CSF (of August 2007) should be invited, as well as other interested organisations. The goal would be to open up the current forum to more organizations, so we could gain some credibility. EURAD objected to this idea, insisting that the diversity among the participants would only become larger and it would become more difficult to reach a common conclusion.
We then proposed that we should look again at the selection criteria, and question the representation of organisations. At this moment, it is not clear how many people are really represented by the members of the current CSF. Irefrea, for instance, includes among its (12) members someone who died several years ago. However the Commission rejected the possibility of reviewing the selection criteria for membership at this moment, and most people preferred to leave that decision to the next CSF.
Some organizations (Correlation and Irefrea) suggested strongly that an administrative unit should be created to steer the Civil Society Forum, and this unit would be formed by some NGOs and financed by the European Commission. (At the end of 2009, some CSF members, among them Correlation and the French Association for Harm Reduction, had sent a proposal to the European Commission to receive money for this work, without notifying the other members of the CSF).
The Commission responded that this could only be done with a call for proposals (this is called a tender) on which everyone would be able to send in applications – among which they would select the best one.
We asked the Commission to give clear indications on the budget that is reserved for the CSF this year. In Edwards’ letter, it was written that there would not be enough money available to organize two CSF sessions in their current form (26 members) this year. In the meeting we were informed that there was still 127.000 euro in the budget for this year. The amount spent in this core group meeting is 4 to 5.000 euros (to bring 4 people to Brussels, with a hotel room for one of them, and have a light lunch for 10 people). So there must be at least 122.000 euros left.
One of the participants at the meeting cited an example of the absurdity of the current financial arrangement. He is unemployed and lives frugally. The European Commission paid a first class train ticket for him to travel from London to Brussels that cost 280 euros, but did not accept to take on charge the expense of the taxis (27 euros) that he was forced to take in order to arrive in time. With the 280 euros he could have easily obtained a cheaper ticket, paid the taxis and still have had a small compensation for the effort.
We made the point that next time we could save much expense by making use of more sensible arrangements for travel and hotels, but the Commission said these arrangements could not be discussed.
Theoretically we could organise two CSF sessions this year but that was not considered useful.
In a final desperate effort to reach a minimal agreement amongst us EURAD proposed that we should concentrate during the next CSF session on formulating 2 to 3 different directions that could be taken in European drug policy, which should be discussed and shared with the current members of the CSF. We agreed, but made sure that it would be possible to include in the discussion on these directions proposals for alternative policies that intend to regulate instead of prohibit, proposals that are thought “outside the box”.
Then the “light lunch” came in, with 4 bottles of wine, and the official part of the meeting ended. Finally it was decided to organise one session of the CSF this year, in December 2010. By then no agenda had been set. So it was decided to organise a new core group meeting in the month of October, in order to prepare the next session. We all agreed that for the next meeting, all members should send in a written proposal (1500 words) for new directions in drug policies, so that this could be the basis for discussion.
On 9 August 2010, the Commission sent its own report on the core group meeting.
Original invitation of Carel Edwards emailed on 18 February 2010
Dear Members of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs,
Given that the new European Commission and European Parliament are now installed – with a new treaty -, we want to continue our efforts to make sure that the voice of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs is heard more clearly as a constructive contributot to the debate.
As you may be aware, the Commission intends to place a debate on the current and future EU Drugs Strategy on the agenda of the CSF meeting. Such a far-reaching debate within the CSF this year will certainly require preparation of all those concerned. We would like to propose an approach which would translate your work into tangible results. Ideally, such results could take the form of a document resulting from both your preparation for the meeting and the subsequent debate, which could further be transmitted to the European Parliament as an expression of views of civil society active in the area of drugs.
You will remember that at the last meeting of the CSF on Drugs held in March 2009 we agreed, in order to have a well-informed and fruitful debate this year, that the Commission would contact all the current CSF members through the elected core group that would act as ‘middlemen’ and that would facilitate the joint work on the agenda of the meeting. Also, as funds for the CSF at our disposal in 2010 are short we would like to make the best possible use of these, and since we do not have the means to hold two full CSF meetings in 2010, we would like to suggest to all of you the following preliminary scenario of our work within the CSF this year.
Second half of April – meeting with the core group in Brussels with the aim of transmitting to the group our ideas and suggestions for drawing up the CSF agenda and methods of work.
May – second half of the year – coordination between the core group members and all the other CSF members, and preparation of the work of the CSF meeting.
Second half of 2010 – meeting of the CSF on Drugs and preparation of the conclusions.
I hope that this new approach. The idea is to improve the preparation of the CSF meetings and make them more operational, as well as to move the debate to views on policy. We intend to contact the core group members as soon as the technicalities regarding the meeting in Brussels in April have been finalised.
Note: The meeting was originally planned for 20 April but postponed to 15 June due to the suspension of air traffic in Europe.
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