A Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union says more about the selection committee then about the EU.
The EU as an example of democracy, human rights and transparent dialogue? Think again.
Inside the European Union, on a daily basis, human rights are violated and principles of transparency and democracy are overruled by the prohibition on drugs. No serious political debate can take place on the question whether there are safer, healthier and more effective ways to tackle the drug issue.
In december 2004, the European Parliament issued a list of recommendations for European drug policy in which it asked for “measures totally different from those currently selected to achieve the overall EU Drugs Strategy objective, (..) since the relevant proposals are inadequate”.
Nothing happened with these recommendations. In the past 8 years, various experts, former presidents and celebrites have called for an end to the war on drugs. In March 2010, the European Commission published an evaluation report that concludes that drug policies have not only been able to reduce drug problems, they have worsened these problems.
In the coming weeks the European Union will draw up a set of guidelines which will serve as the basis for a Europe wide strategy on drugs for the coming 8 years. The fundament of drug policies, prohibition, remains untouched. Meanwhile, police forces around Europe keep chasing consumers, small dealers and cannabis growers, while harm reduction policies are threatened by cuts in public expenditure.
Drug consumers do not have rights in Europe, they have favours which can be taken away from them any moment.
Who believes the European Union promotes the concept of dialogue with civil society should read the following. This concept has been repeated over and over again in documents released by the various EU drug policy agencies over the past decade; indeed, it was among the main recommendations of many evaluation reports, declarations of EU Drug Summits and even Drug Action Plans. However, such a consultation has never taken place, thanks to the systematic manipulation by the European Commission.
Here is a short overview on the history of efforts by civil society representatives and others to obtain a dialogue with EU authorities on the course of drug policy.
October 1986: European Parliament installs a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the factors that favour the demand for illicit drugs, permit their production and distribution
and make a series of proposals for action on a European scale. In its report, the Committee made the following recommendation: “A continuous
review and open discussion should take place on the attitude and role of society in dealing with drug addicts and the effects of law enforcement policies on drug users
themselves” (Stewart-Clark, 1986).
March 1993: Following the request of the European Commission to European NGOs working on drug issues to form a common instrument that could serve as a dialogue partner for the EU institutions working on drugs, especially the EMCDDA, the European NGO Committee on Drugs and Development (ENCOD) was founded.
October 1993: Foundation of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). Despite many letters and efforts to obtain an official invitation to the EMCDDA meetings, we never received any written response. In non-official conversations, the EMCDDA director Georges Estievenart told us he would like to invite NGOs, but his Management Board (formed by governments) thought this was not opportune.
December 1994: The first European Union Action Plan to Combat Drugs (1995-1999) included the following
action: “Interdisciplinary exchanges on the drug problem between the bodies and professional organisations responsible for reducing drugs demand and
drugs supply (…) could promote exchanges between the different actors involved (e.g. local authorities, magistrates, lawyers, social workers, customs officials, police
officers, non-governmental organisations, and drug addicts’ associations.” In the following years, the European Union did not take any initiative whatsoever to establish this dialogue.
December 1999: A new European Union Strategy on Drugs (2000-2004) was presented. Also in this document, the role of citizens, including risk groups
themselves, in drug related action, was referred to as “of paramount importance. Non-governmental organisations have a long tradition in raising public awareness
and educating the young as well as helping drug addicts and their families, and coping with the damage caused. They are often in a pioneering position in
developing visions and methods for our work. Citizen participation is also necessary to ensure the transparency of the EU strategy, since the development of drug policy
presupposes a special concern for open, frank and critical discussion. The European drug strategy will be devised and carried out in close co-operation with the civil
society. International non-governmental networks and activities of cities, facing the drug problem, will be supported.”
February 2000: An Inter-institutional Conference on Drug Policies in Europe was organised in Brussels. The purpose of this conference was to facilitate a discussion between authorities and civil society organisations on the issue of drug policies in Europe. Among the participants to this conference were representatives of the 15 EU Member States, the European Parliament, the European Commission, EUROPOL, EMCDDA, international organisations, candidate countries and some NGOs. According to the official report of the conference, 40 out of a total of 300 participants
were NGO representatives, although those who attended the conference estimate their number at less than 20. ENCOD presented a statement.
May 2000: In the official report of this Conference by the European Commission, it was concluded that the conference “allowed the representatives of
national authorities and of civil society to discuss the main issues on drugs in a wide ranging and open debate. Coordination between services and synergies with NGOs
is crucial for success. National and EU policies should facilitate co-operation and exchange between actors and the role of networks should be revised and
strengthened.” However, again there was no action behind the words. In the coming years, no concrete measures were taken to strengthen the collaboration with civil society
October 2002: A mid-term evaluation of the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2000 – 2004, elaborated by a task force consisting of EU and governmental agencies,
indicated that “a strategy for strengthening co-operation with civil society in the field of drugs should be developed”. The evaluation recommended the organisation of a
new conference in 2004 to involve civil society in the future development of EU Drug Policy.
May 2004: A European Union Summit on Drug Policy was organised in Dublin, Ireland, called ’The Way Forward’. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the global guidelines for the forthcoming Strategy on Drugs of the European Union (2005 – 2012). Out of 150 participants, 4 were NGO representatives, among them 3 ENCOD members. See the speech and the report.
August – November 2004: ENCOD presented a proposal for a dialogue to EU authorities to organise a dialogue with involved civil society during the preparation process of a new EU Drug Strategy for 2005 – 2012. Read the letters sent to EU authorities on 22 October, 28 september and 30 August. On the other hand, Member of European Parliament Giusto Catania , responsible for the EP report on the new drug strategy, invited us to participate in a common reflection on this strategy. This collaboration resulted in the drafting of a report that called for a major shift in drug policies from repression to harm reduction. It also called for a greater role of civil society in the design and implementation of drug policies.
ENCOD Members wrote various letters to Members of European Parliament in support of what would become known as the Catania report. In the same period, the European Union Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction issued the results of an evaluation of the past EU Drugs Strategy. These results were devastating for the strategy.
December 2004: During the days when the plenary session of the European Parliament had to vote on the report, ENCOD organised an information stand in the European Parliament in Strassbourg. Finally, the report was approved and became the official opinion of the European Parliament on EU drug policy. Among others, the report states that none of the objectives set by the former EU Anti-Drug Strategy (2000-2004) has achieved favourable results, and that the European Union should draw political and legislative lessons from this when devising the new strategy.
However, few days later, the new EU Drug Strategy was adopted by the European Council of Ministers without any indications that a change of course had been considered.
In a reaction, ENCOD issued a proposal to organise a conference in 2005 to adress the issue of civil society involvement in the design of drug policies in the EU. Meanwhile, the European Commission had opened a website where anyone could send his/her comments to the new EU Drug Strategy. 35 letters were received.
May 2005: ENCOD organised a Public Hearing on EU Drug Policy in the European parliament. See the report and the speech.
During this hearing, attended by Carel Edwards, Head of the European Commission’s Drug Coordination Unit, ENCOD proposed to create an official dialogue forum on drug policy in the EU. Edwards said no, and that it would be impossible for him to explain why. He said that there is little that “Europe” can do as there is no consensus among the national governments. He said that ENCOD was “punching above weight because we try to reach at EU level what we have not obtained at national level, that the European Union has in fact a very narrow basis which is to try to bring consensus, and that they have to act extremely carefully“.
Following the hearing, a delegation of ENCOD had a meeting with staff members of the Drugs Coordination Unit of the Directorate Justice, Security and Freedom of the European Commission. In the meeting, we were told that the European Commission actually agreed with ENCOD that a dialogue with civil society was urgently needed and that it would result in a win-win situation. However, we were also told that bureaucratic procedures were making it impossible to start this dialogue before 2007, at the earliest.
September 2005: ENCOD wrote the EP to ask for a special budget of 1 million Euro / year to finance a true dialogue on drug policy. This amount was later assigned.
January 2006: European Commission organised the Conference on “Civil Society and Drugs“. Among the approx. 60
organisations that participated, 15 % advocated ‘zero tolerance’ policies, 50 %
promoted harm reduction policies within the current legislative framework, while 35 % advocated legislative changes to allow for drug policies not based on
prohibition. At the end of the Conference the Commission promised that in 2007, “a budget line will be created to facilitate the efforts to include the demands of citizens and their
organisations in the European policies and strategies, and to guarantee that
information reaches the citizen”. At least part of a total amount of 16 million euro would be dedicated to this purpose.
June 2006: European Commission published the Green paper on EU Dialogue with Civil Society on Drug Policy – proposing to create a Civil Society Forum on Drug Policy. The public was asked to send reactions.
September 2006: ENCOD issued the Green pepper.. In this paper we described the history of EU civil society consultation on drug policy, and we made the following analysis of the 16 existing European civil society networks working in the drug field: “Twelve of them are
primarily formed by organisations of professionals working in the health and information sector. Most of these organisations are not accessible to just any citizen; to be a member, one has to be recognised as an actor inside the health or information sector. Two networks consist primarily of local authorities, so therefore the question could be raised if they could be considered as civil
society at all. Only the remaining two networks (BASICS and ENCOD) consist of
associations of citizens. These networks have been set up mainly to defend the
interests of consumers and other affected and concerned citizens, with no direct
relationship to the state apparatus (although Basics receives funding from the
July 2007: European Commission published all comments to Green paper and called for organisations to apply for the first Civil Society Forum on Drug Policies in the EU that would be set up later that year. All in all 75 organisations applied.
October 2007: ENCOD made an own proposal for the organisation of the CSF.. We wrote that the objectives of this dialogue should be to engage all participants and enhance their understanding of the drug phenomenon. “The methodology should be designed to create an environment where all participants can feel confident. It should be agreed upon by both representatives of EU institutions and of civil society together. It should respect the diversity of all existing networks and organisations. Transparency and accessibility should be safeguarded during the entire process.” No response was received to this proposal.
November 2007: European Commission invited 26 organisations to the first session of the CSF to be held in December. Of these organisations, 3 represented directly affected citizens, 4 were lobby groups, 17 represented health professionals and 2 local authorities. ENCOD wrote a letter requesting the reasons for the selection of these organisations as well as the non-selection of others. The Commission replied that organisations were selected in order to avoid an ideological discussion to take place in the CSF.
December 2007: In the middle of the confusion on how the CSF would function the first session was organised in Brussels. Three organisations could not be present because of logistical errors made by the Commission. The agenda containing 70 pages was sent to the participants 36 hours before the start of the meeting. The session resulted in a complete disaster, in the words of the European Commission itself. See ENCODs statement and report. When we denounced the lack of transparency and clarification about the structure and functioning of the forum, the Commission firstly responded that “this is the way the forum is organised and nothing can be done about it“, but later indicated that “several Member States are opposed to the participation of Civil Society in the drug policy making process, and that this was one of the reasons for the chaotic way of organising the meeting“.
March 2008: After months of discussion, the European Parliament issued a report on the Civil Society Forum on Drug Policies in the EU.
In the report the European Parliament urges the Commission to set up the CSF with “a clear mandate, well
defined agendas, transparent procedures and achievable work plans with real input into the
policy-making process“. The EP further recommends that the CSF “participates in the evaluation of the
EU Drugs Action Plans, maintains more far-reaching and transparent relations with the Member States, is permanently present at meetings held by the EU’s Presidency with national drug action coordinators, remains in permanent contacts with Parliament, holding an annual conference with concerned groups and EU institutions working in the field of drugs, and assessing the results obtained, and establishes a strong synergy between the activities of the Forum and those of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), which could devote a section of its annual report to the activities of EU civil society.”
May 2008: Second CSF in Brussels. See the ENCODstatement and report. This time some real discussion could take place, resulting in the start of slightly more comprehension between some prohibitionist and anti-prohibitionist groups. The European Commission made sure that these discussions would not lead anywhere, as every time recommendations were proposed that would challenge current policies, the EC representatives would intervene and say that “there is no Member State that has any intention to change the basis for drug policies, which is the UN Conventions. Therefore the policies and programmes of the EU have to remain within the framework of the UN Conventions.”
December 2008: European Commission published a new draft E U Action Plan on drugs. None of the resommendations made during the CSF in March were accepted in the Action Plan. Although the Commission wrote that “It is time to put the people of Europe at the centre of policy in this field and to get Europe’s citizens more involved” it announced the establishment of a ‘European Alliance On Drugs’ that would aim to “mobilise a broad range of civil society structures in a common effort to warn against the dangers of drugs“. This new body would operate totally independent from the CSF, and orchestrate so-called public support behind a European wide approach on drug policy that would be designed in Brussels. In a reaction sent to the Commission, ENCOD noted ” a clear discrepancy between the words and the actions of the European Commission in this matter. In stead of respecting the outcome of dialogues with civil society in forums that were created after many years of efforts, the Commission apparently still believes it is possible to impose a drug policy on EU citizens calling it “alliance-building“.
March 2009: Third CSF in Brussels; See the ENCOD statement: and the report of ENCOD, UNAD and INPUD.. While the CSF almost unanimously rejected the Commission’s initiative to set up an Alliance on Drugs, various participants raised the question what would be the concrete purpose of the CSF. It was also mentioned that the Commission should be more transparent in the selection of the participants, extend the membership of the forum to more participants and provide insight in the way the CSF was financed. Participants demanded more information on the impact the forum would have on policy-making processes and claimed that the agenda should be prepared in collaboration with the participants, and not imposed by the EU. In order to solve the impasse, a Core Group was formed among the CSF members that together with the Commission would prepare the next session of the CSF.
June 2009: The website of the European Action on Drugs (formerly called Alliance on Drugs) was launched in order to encourage civil society organisations to join the appeal to warn their fellow citizens on the risks of drugs. The European Commission made clear in a letter to Encod that this programme had been financed with money coming from the budget for dialogue with civil society on drug policies.
During the CSF meeting in March, the Commission had announced that the annual budget for the CSF was 100.000 euro (10 % of the amount that had been assigned to this post by the European Parliament). The cost of organising a meeting of the CSF in its present form is 50.000 euros. This money is spent to first class plane and train tickets, first class hotel rooms and a luxury dinner in Brussels for 26 people. During 2009 only one CSF session was organised. So the question raised if the Commission had used the remaining 50.000 euro to the creation of a website expressing a message that had not been consulted in any way with civil society.
September 2009: ENCODs Steering Committee visited the Commissions’ DCU unit in order to obtain clarity on the financial situation and the perspectives of the CSF. See the report and the conclusions. During and after the meeting it was not possible to obtain clear information on the use of the CSF budget. Our conclusion of this meeting was “that the Commission is trying to transform the Civil Society Forum into an expensive chatroom, and has diverted part of the money that was meant for CSF to an anti-drug propaganda campaign that nobody has asked for. By constantly invoking a non-existent rule, that nothing can be discussed that is not explicitly in the mandate of the European Commission or the margins of the UN Convention, the Commission undermines the dialogue with civil society that has been created after so many years.”
December 2009: ENCOD requested MEPs to take initiatives to facilitate a policy dialogue on drugs. The letter states: “The CSF has been organised three times, each involving a meeting of one and a half days in Brussels (in December 2007, May 2008 and March 2009). In none of these sessions has it been possible to discuss drug policy in the European Union. This has been due to the intervention of the DCU representatives of the European Commission (Drugs Coordination Unit) who have had the monopoly in preparing the agenda and moderating these sessions. Every request of participants to put on the agenda the impact of current drug policies and possible alternative regulatory schemes has been denied by the DCU representatives. Instead the CSF sessions have consisted of rather unstructured information exchanges without a clear agenda nor follow up procedure, leading to an increasing frustration among its participants.”
During 2010 ENCOD organised two public hearings in the European Parliament, one in february and one in december. In both hearings, the Head of the Commission’s Drug Coordination Unit (Mr. Carel Edwards and Ms. Dana Spinant) were present. Faced with the evidence presented on the hearing that current drug policy is a failure, Mr. Carel Edwards stated on this hearing that “we know that repression does not work. Europe is slowly on the way to more liberal drug policies.” Ms Dana Spinant stated repeatedly that ” the Commission has no competence to take any initiatives for opening the debate on drug reform. The responsibility lies entirely with the EU Member States, it is there where you should address yourself“.
June 2010: The Commission organised the first meeting of the so-called Core Group of the CSF which had been formed during the last CSF in March 2009. The first meeting produced no results, and therefore a second one was organised in november. In this session, the network Correlation (a harm reduction project financed by the European Commission) offered to function as the secretariat of the Core Group. The decision was made to organise the next Civil Society Forums in working groups that would be organised in such a way that likeminded organisations could develop their views without being challenged by others, so one or more coherent views could be developed. The Commission refused to change its rules regarding selection criteria and transparency around representativity of the process and its participants.
December 2010: The 4th session of the CSF was the first one to be organised according to this formula. Working groups were organised around 4 themes, one of which was “From prohibition to regulation, options for alternative policies, evidence based policy.” There is no guarantee that this issue will be included in the CSF-submission to the EC for the new EU Drugs Strategy that will be written in the autumn of 2012.
April 2011: The 5th session of the CSF was organised in the same way. Discussion papers were discussed but no common texts were produced. Several new organisations were included, without any information being given about the reason they had been selected or the people they represent.
Although the responsability for organising the last session of the Civil Society Forum in its current form has passed to the members of the CSF, it is clear that the entire CSF process remains entirely dominated by the European Commission. The Commission can decide who is admitted inside, it does not have to make clear the motivation of this decision, and it decides about the financial side. The Commission remains in complete control of the process, which end in a “non-document” very similar to the ones that are produced by the Commission itself.
And even if this document contains any interesting recommendation, finally the Commission can always ignore it by saying it is the responsability of the member states.
The current nature of the Civil Society Forum —and EU policy generally —reflects a problematic trend towards insularity, insider-ism, and bureaucracy. While the hope was to make a more democratic process, the reality shows is that the opposite has been produced: a network of elite specialists who profit, whether financially or in terms of prestige or personal ego, by exaggerating the harms and risks of drugs, and by overvaluing the role of government in their regulation.
By Joep Oomen