The reconvened Civil Society Forum on Drugs discussed how to put drug policy back on the EU’s political agenda at its first meeting in Brussels.
The Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSFD) is an expert group of the European Commission, advising decision makers on drug policies. The members of the Forum are selected by the Commission, based on their expertise and knowledge in the field, for a three year mandate. The membership of the new Forum (2018-21) had its first meeting in Brussels, hosted by the Organised Crime and Drug Unit of the DG Home of the EU Commission. More than 40 professionals and activists gathered from all regions of Europe, including some EU candidate countries, to discuss how civil society can contribute to making and evaluating drug policies at the EU level.
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Members were welcomed by Floriana Sipala, head of the Unit, who gave an overview of the drug situation and recent policy developments. She highlighted the ongoing external evaluation of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the most important EU research institution in the drug field based in Lisbon. The evaluation can show the importance of the EMCDDA in these difficult times when there are polarised debates about the future of the EU, and some governments would like to curtail the budget on social and health policies.
It is not only the EMCDDA’s future that is endangered by these political tensions but the drug coordination and funding system of the European Commission as well. The Commission proposed to put two funding mechanisms into the new budget cycle to support work on drug prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and social rehabilitation:
1) The Internal Security Fund of the DG Home, which will take over the role of the EC Justice grants, which distributes approximately 2 million Euros a year in grants to civil society organisations working in the field. The competition for these grants is huge – and only 4-5 applicants are supported every year. The last call for EC Justice grant proposals will be published in the autumn.
2) European Social Fund + will also provide social and health related grants to NGOs – if the Commission’s proposal is approved by the member states and the EU Parliament.
Drug policies are not a priority for decision makers at the moment – public attention is hijacked by the so-called migration crisis. Therefore it is essential for civil society to advocate for more political and financial support for this field. One of the key question discussed by the CSFD was how to put drug policy back on the agenda of the EU.
The Forum elected its new Core Group members (Lauren Collard, Thanasis Apostolou, Marie Nougier, Matej Kosir, Iga Kender-Jeziorska and Katrin Schiffer) and re-established its four working groups: 1) on the EU Drug Strategy and Action Plan, 2) on institutional relations of the EU and international structures, 3) on civil society involvement, and 4) on quality standards of demand/harm reduction programs. All working groups adopted their work-plan for the first year.
The first working group presented the findings of the online survey on civil society views on the implementation of the EU Action Plan on Drugs (2017-20), adopted last year. The questionnaire was completed by 179 NGOs from 33 countries, which gives the CSF a unique opportunity to assess the access to and quality of services perceived by those professionals who work on the ground, complementing the official data provided by governments. The report will be published in the autumn, together with communication tools (eg. online videos) to promote the Action Plan in member states, and to bridge the gap in the awareness on this very progressive document among decision makers and the general public. The working group will also produce at least four case studies on positive examples of civil society actions/programs from member states that can serve as inspiration for other countries.
The second working group will focus on feeding the discussion at the UN level and contribute to the preparation of the EU positions ahead of the High Level Ministerial Segment on drugs, to be held in Vienna in March 2019. The CSFD strongly supports the EU’s position on the Outcome Document that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2016. This document opened a new chapter in global drug policies by reframing the debate by adding human rights and public health to the agenda. The EU has an increasingly important role to oppose the wave of inhumane policies in Asia, such as mass killings in the Philippines and Bangladesh. The working group also decided to produce a paper on new cannabis policies, including legal regulation of the drug in Canada.
The third working group will continue to assess and boost civil society involvement in the EU and national level. They will create a policy briefing paper and also give mini-grants to some NGOs, to bridge some gaps and address barriers in drug policies in the national and local level by organising a national policy dialogue between civil society and decision makers. A conference on civil society involvement in drug policies will be organised in Brussels in November, a day after the next plenary meeting of the CSFD.
The fourth working group is now working on a survey to assess the implementation of the quality standards adopted by the EU Council in its conclusions. They will undertake a study on the feasibility of implementing these standards and will assess the main challenges in practice. They also plan to develop some user-friendly guidelines for NGOs on how to ensure that quality standards are implemented in their day-to-day work.