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The role of civil society in drugs policy in the European Union
Drugs are regarded as a major problem for the European Union. In order to prevent and limit social and health risks as well as crime, the Commission has decided to involve the organisations of civil society in its anti-drugs strategy for the period 2005-2012.
Commission Green Paper of 26 June 2006 on the role of civil society in drugs policy in the European Union [COM(2006) 316 final - not published in the Official Journal].
In its fight against drugs, the EU has decided to consult civil society. The experience gained on the ground by these associations, particularly in helping the victims of this scourge, constitutes a major asset for the Commission, which wants to strengthen the networks of civil society, take account of their recommendations and gather together innovative practice on the ground.
The concept of "civil society"
There is no commonly accepted definition of the concept of "civil society". The Commission has often used this term to refer to organisations representing both social and economic stakeholders. However, a more precise definition has been used for the purposes of this green paper. Civil society is the associational life operating in the space between the state and market, including individual participation, and the activities of non-governmental, voluntary and Community organisations. The aims of involving civil society are to support policy formulation and implementation through practical advice, to ensure an effective two-way information flow and to stimulate networking among the various organisations.
This growing involvement of civil society is a part of the development of European governance and the wish to bring Europe closer to citizens. Since 1992, relations between the EU and civil society have had two guiding principles: diversity of dialogue and equal treatment.
The legal framework of the fight against drugs
The Treaty establishing the European Community created a legal framework which constitutes a valuable tool in the fight against drugs on essential points such as the following:
- money laundering: Directive on the prevention of money laundering in the financial system;
- the protection of public health: a Council Recommendation on the prevention and reduction of health related harm associated with drug dependence;
- control: a Regulation on drug precursors;
- cooperation: a Council Decision on new psychoactive substances.
The EU has also established a European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) which is a Community agency established within the framework provided by the EC Treaty.
Civil society stakeholders in the drugs field
In this green paper, the Commission proposes that the dialogue between the EU and a vast range of organisations active in the fight against drugs be structured and placed on a more durable basis. The Commission therefore wishes to act in harmony with the associations that implement at local level the actions set out in the EU Action Plan on Drugs, especially in achieving the objectives on drug prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of drug users. These organisations and other types of voluntary groups are also often good at developing innovative approaches based on a realistic picture of what is needed.
The Commission must respond to two considerations: it must take account of the diversity of these associations, which are often subdivided along philosophical, scientific and moral lines, on the one hand, and it must ensure that there is effective and organised debate, on the other. The Commission also stresses the valuable contribution of associations which do not directly fight drugs, such as those connected with HIV/AIDS.
The way forward: different options
The Commission proposes two options for organising the dialogue with civil society.
Firstly, a civil society forum on drugs: this wording implies the creation of a broad platform, chaired by the Commission, with a limited number of participants in order for the dialogue to be kept structured and operational. The object is not to create a civil society assembly as a platform for various ideologies but to create a practical instrument to support policy formulation and implementation through practical advice. This forum would not be a formal structure within the Commission. Additionally, it will supplement the existing debate between the governments of Member States and the associations of civil society; the focus will therefore be on European added value. The selection criteria for taking part in this forum are as follows:
- the organisation has to correspond to the concept of civil society, in other words the associational life operating in the space between the state and the market;
- the organisation has to operate in an EU Member State or a candidate country. Organisations from European neighbourhood policy countries may also participate, when appropriate;
- priority will be given to associations which are transnational or in the form of networks in a number of Member States;
- the organisation has to focus mainly on the fight against drugs, it must have a track record and it must be representative.
There must then be a thematic linking of existing networks. The purpose is to give the Commission technical assistance on issues requiring specific experience or expertise on the basis of the successful model for the treatment of drug addiction.
The harmful consequences of drugs for health and society, as well as drug-related crime, are seen by public opinion as a major concern. Since the 1990s, a European model based on a balanced and integrated approach to drugs has been developed. In the context of the implementation of the EU strategy on drugs for the period 2005-2012 and the 2005-2008 action plan, it is essential that European policy on this matter should still be inspired by the ideas and the experience of the many organisations of civil society which are active in this field.