On January 31st, 2008, the European Parliaments Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) discussed the draft report of Giusto Catania MEP on European Commission”s Green Paper the role of Civil Society in Drugs Policy in the European Union, the basis of the Civil Society Forum that was set up in 2007.
Good to know: The role of the report in the process of the Civil Society Forum is unclear. As with all other issues related to drug policies, the opinion of the European Parliament has no binding character: the European Commission and Council (of Member States) can do with it what they like. However, the tone of the report may always have a symbolical value as it originates from the only democratic expression of the European people through their elected representatives.
The discussion lasted for approx. 20 minutes. The rapporteur, Giusto Catania, started with saying that the role of civil society in drug policy is absolutely critical. He welcomed the decision of the Commission to set up the Civil Society Forum, and summarised his comments in three parts.
With regards to the structure of the CSF, Catania said that “any ideological “colouring” should be avoided, every positive interaction between governments and NGOs should be promoted. It is important to maintain the process transparent (therefore the criticism on the lack of transparency should be taken seriously), and the role of the forum should be to strengthen the Commission’s activities (so a strong cooperation with the HDG, the EMCDDA and/or the Fundamental Human Rights Agency is recommended)”
With regards to “internal” drug policies, the rapporteur stated that “it is especially important to ensure the presence of consumer associations and organisations working on prevention and information. NGOs can play an important role in measuring the impact of drug policies on the street level.”
With regards to “external” drug policies, he felt that “it is important to recognise the work of NGOs working internationally to find legal outlets for crops that are being produced for the illegal market, just like opium in Afghanistan and coca leaves in the Andean region. This will reduce the supply of raw materials to the illegal market.”
After this introduction, it was the time for Members of the LIBE Committee to re-act. The first to speak was Greek Christian Democrat Panyiotis DEMETRIOU, who said that “the war on drugs should not be abandoned because there are still drugs around, just as we cannot afford to abandon the war on terrorism when still people die because of terrorism. He questioned the approach of NGOs that want to find legal outlets for illegal crops, as he thought it would be difficult to solve the problem of who should administer these legal outlets. This question should be answered by these NGOs.”
The following speaker, Dutch Christian Democrat Esther DE LANGE agreed that NGOs had an important role to play in the issue, but expressed doubts as well. “It seems very difficult to establish a representative group of NGOs in such a small group as a Civil Society Forum of 30 members. How do you guarantee the diversity of civil society opinions on drugs in such a small group? In the south of the Netherlands, the consequences of this diversity are visible every day in the phenomenon of drug tourism from Belgium and Germany. It would be a good idea to suggest a European approach to this problem.”
Third speaker was Roselyne LEFRANçOIS, member of the French Socialist Party, who agreed with the content of the Catania report but stated that the timing was very late, as the Civil Society Forum has already started on 13 & 14 December 2007 and the opinion of the European Parliament is superfluous. She also stated the importance of prevention, and considered the criticism of NGOs regarding the lack of transparency as a normal reaction of organisations that were not selected to be a part of the process. She also questioned the focus on Afghanistan (“there are many other countries in the same situation”), and the involvement of consumer associations (“as they are basically fighting for the right to use drugs”)
The following speaker, Marco CAPPATO, criticised the proposed Civil Society Forum for failing to provide a structure for dialogue. “We should avoid that this becomes another bureacratic institution, we should make it an instrument of dialogue with a focus on EU drug policies. Let us discuss the results of the different drug policies in Europe, let the Member States present their results and let the Civil Society criticise these results, this is the kind of discussion we need to become aware of the issue.” Cappato also insisted on a greater role for science in the drug policy-making process.
Then, Inger Segelström, member of the Swedish Social-Democrat party, took the floor and expressed her support to the existence of the forum. She also said she thought we need to work on solutions for Afghanistan, but that this should not be essentially trhe work of NGO’s. Their role would mostly lie in the organisation of prevention campaigns etc. in Europe itself.
The following speaker, Alexander ALVARO of the German Liberal Party, felt that “with regards to Afghanistan, Europe needs to find suitable ways to ensure people a decent livelihood,. Opium for legal outlets like medicine could play a role in this, just as we are allowing cannabis to be used for MS patients. Civil soicety needs to tell us which policies work and which not. It seems decades of repressive drug policies have not led to reduced drug use. We need better prevention policies and reflect on the pros and contras of repression vs liberalisation. Today we see very strong legal drugs being sold on prescription. It would be better to give people the choice.+
>http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/expert/committees/view.do?language=EN&id=4469], member of the Socialist Group for Italy, finished the series of comments asking for the reasons why the proposal of the thematic networks was abandoned in the final structure of the dialogue.
Two representatives of the European Commission commented some of the issues commented by the MEPs. They announced an executive summary of the first session of the Civil Society Forum that was held on 13 & 14 December 2007. They stated that the CSF was organised in such a way that a maximum input of civil society could be ensured in the evaluation of the EU Action Plan of 2005-2008 and the preparation of a new Action Plan for 2009-2012. This input was valuable as long as it was based on experiences being made on the ground level. The Commission also said that the thematic networks (IREFREA, ERIT and ENCOD were mentioned as examples) were as much as possible represented in the CSF, and that all efforts had been made to ensure the forum would be a representative group.
Finally, Giusto Catania answered some of the questions. He made clear that the report is not on drug policy per sé, but on the involvement of civil society. He stressed the importance of Afghanistan, exactly because it is European NGOs that have developed an international project to contribute to a solution for Afghanistan. “We are obliged to follow the reality: the Civil Society Forum exists and we as Parliament are trying to give it some guidance. If NGOs raise publically the lack of transparency of the Commission’s approach, we need to take that into account. This is not about more repressive or more liberal policies, it is about the crucial question if we are able to use the work of NGOs to improve the implementation of drug policies in the European Union.”