Efus at the annual meeting of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs

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Brussels, November 2016 – Efus took part in the 11th annual meeting of the European Union’s Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSF), a consultative group gathering representatives of civil society tasked with informing the EU’s policies on drugs, on 7-8 November, in Brussels. Represented by Joana Judice, European Projects Officer, Efus and other CSF members discussed the work done this year and the work programme for 2017.

At the start of the two-day session, representatives of the European Commission and of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), a global network of 166 NGOs, gave a summary of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drug policy, which was held in New York on 19-21 April. The broad aim of UNGASS is to reach a worldwide consensus on how to tackle drugs and drug consumption in spite of the significant differences in drug policies among the countries and regions of the world. UNGASS has thus included the views of the European Union, to which the CSF contributed.

The CSF has four working groups on the themes of quality standards on drug demand reduction; institutional relations with the EU and international structures; action plan and civil society engagement in national drug policies, and input in EU drug strategy. Efus is part of the latter as representative of European local and regional authorities.

The CSF working group on ‘institutional relations with the EU and international structures’ worked intensely to prepare recommendations to the European Commission and European Council that were reflected in the EU statement. The main point that the CSF wanted to emphasise is the need to maintain and develop harm reduction policies, and this position was indeed reflected by the EU. The official EU statement, representing all 28 Member States, says that, “risk and harm reduction measures must be further promoted and implemented.

However, representatives of the European Commission’s Directorate General Home pointed out that even though the UNGASS outcome document is balanced and evidence-based, it is not as ambitious as the EU would have liked, in particular regarding the importance of harm reduction.

Preparing the 2017 working plan

The second part of the meeting was devoted to preparing the 2017 work programme, and each group worked individually on the priorities and main areas of work.

The EU drug strategy 2013-2020 had a first action plan that covered the period 2013-2016.

The new action plan (2017-2020) will update the previous one and include new topics. This new plan is currently being discussed within the Commission’s services, and will afterwards be examined by the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (HDG), which is responsible for leading and managing the Council’s work on drugs.

CSF members have the possibility to make suggestions and send recommendations to the Commission before the end of the year on the work programme, which will be released in March 2017.

Meeting with members of the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs

CSF members had the opportunity to meet with HDG members (European Council). Seventeen Member States were represented in this session, which included a presentation of the priorities of the Slovak Presidency of the EU and questions and answers. Four main themes were discussed: how the Council will follow up on the UNGASS; the situation in the Philippines and the need to embed human rights into drugs policy; the need to adopt minimum quality standards in Member States, and access to health and harm reduction services for migrants and refugees.

As member of the CSF since its creation, Efus makes a positive assessment of the work of this forum that brings together European Commission services and CSO representatives, fosters dialogue and recognises the role of civil society in policy-making. Furthermore, dialogue with the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs is improving, and a growing number of Member States take part in the annual meeting. Lastly, the CSF’s advocacy work was seen as positive in the preparation of the UNGASS, and it was taken into account in the position presented by the EU at the UN session.

The Brussels meeting was the first to be organised following the renewal of the CSF membership for the period 2015-2017. Currently, 45 organisations representing civil society are members. Created in 2007, the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs meets at least once a year and serves as a platform for informal exchanges of views and information between the Commission and civil society organisations.