Home > Civil society to have role in EU drugs policy.

Pike, Brigid (2006) Civil society to have role in EU drugs policy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 19, Autumn 2006, pp. 19-20.

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The European Commission is currently seeking to establish a clear role for civil society in relation to drugs policy in the EU. It has defined what it means by ‘civil society’ and why it should be involved in drugs policy. How it should be involved is the question posed in the recent consultative document Green Paper on the role of civil society in drugs policy in the European Union.1

The Green Paper defines ‘civil society’ as ‘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’ (p. 5). Associational life includes non-governmental, voluntary and community organisations that represent service providers, the interests of professionals working in the drugs field, drug users or their families, and others who, while not working directly or primarily with drug policy, still have a valuable contribution to make, for example in relation to HIV/AIDS. The Green Paper also explicitly includes ‘individual citizens who clearly make a significant commitment or contribution’ and ‘those affected by public policies, who might otherwise not be heard’ (p. 5).

The three reasons given for involving civil society in drugs policy are consistent with the types of actors included in the definition of civil society – service providers and users: ‘to support policy formulation and implementation through practical advice, to ensure an effective two-way information flow, and to stimulate networking among civil society organisations’ (p. 5).

The Green Paper outlines two possible mechanisms for engaging civil society in drugs policy:

o         a Civil Society Forum on Drugs, which would be a platform for regular structured dialogue between the European Commission and civil society, mainly on themes occurring in the EU Action Plan on Drugs; and

o         creating co-operation between civil society organisations  by linking networks under common themes as an informal, light and cost-effective way of structuring information flows and enabling a more effective consultation.

Feedback is invited on the perceived benefits, added value or weaknesses of these two options, on whether the options are mutually exclusive, or could be combined, and on whether there are other possible mechanisms not mentioned in the Green Paper.

Whatever mechanism is finally chosen, it may be anticipated that it will not be the last word on how the European Commission engages with civil society. The brevity of the Green Paper and the narrow focus of the issues presented therein belie the complexity of the topic. What civil society is and how it should engage in public policy development are being fervently debated at both United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) level and views and understandings are evolving rapidly.

EU and civil society

In Europe civil society has had a formal voice since the establishment of the European Economic and Social Council (EESC) under the 1957 Treaty of Rome.2 In 1994, under the EU Treaty, a Committee of the Regions (CoR) was established to give a voice to regional and local authorities.3 In 2001, in preparation for EU enlargement, the European Commission launched a white paper on European governance, seeking to enhance democracy and increase the legitimacy of the EU institutions.4 This white paper identified a number of ways of strengthening the role of civil society in relation to the work of the European Commission, including establishing minimum standards for consultation,5 setting up a database accessible to the public which lists the civil society organisations (CSOs) involved in consultations,6 and using the Internet to collect and analyse reactions in the market place for use in the EU’s policy-making process.7 In 2006 the European Commission launched an open public consultation on a new initiative on European transparency, seeking, among other things, feedback on the Commission’s minimum standards for consultation.8  

These initiatives highlight a number of questions relevant to the involvement of civil society in EU drugs policy.9 For example:

o         Representivity: How are CSOs to be chosen and what contribution can they make? Who should act as the gatekeeper and how? Acknowledging the diversity of views and approaches among CSOs in the drugs field, the Green Paper states that the European Commission will ‘select members for the Forum on the basis of an open call, after it has received and analysed reactions to the Green Paper’ (p. 8). The Paper states that representation of different stakeholders and different policy options should be balanced and that membership of the Forum should be for a fixed term, and proposes some preliminary selection criteria, including credibility and representativeness.

o         Democratic Legitimacy: How will the European Commission balance policy input from civil society against input from the democratically-elected governments of member states or from other democratic sources such as regional or local authorities? The Green Paper states that the ‘consultations with civil society should not replace or duplicate the existing debate between civil society and national or local governments. The focus should be on European added value’ (p. 8, underlining in original).

o         EU Decision-Making Procedures: The Green Paper does not address the question of whether and how civil society might interact with other EU institutions involved in making drug-related policy, e.g.  the European Council and the European Parliament. For example, in the area of supply reduction, including drug trafficking and organised crime, it is the European Council, rather than the European Commission, that makes policy decisions.

UN and civil society

Article 71 of the 1945 UN Charter mandates a consultative role for civil society in relation to the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ESC).10 In turn, the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which is accountable to the ESC, promotes strong partnerships with CSOs in countering the global drug abuse and crime problem.11 In recent years the UN has embarked on an extensive programme of organisational reform, including reviewing the role of civil society.12 The review of the role of civil society in relation to the UN addresses many of the same issues as the EU. Two additional areas relevant to the role of civil society in relation to EU drugs policy are:

o         Operational Systems and Procedures:  How are CSOs which participate in policy making to be resourced and supported in their Commission-related work? What mechanisms are needed to support the CSOs and co-ordinate their work with that of the European Commission? What protocols need to be developed to govern access to the Commission and ensure appropriate interactions and information flows between Commission personnel and CSOs?  While not addressed in the Green Paper, these matters have been considered as part of the UN reform process.13

o         Governance:  Perhaps the most contentious question in relation to the role of civil society in relation to policy making is that of its role in respect of decision making – what responsibilities will be assigned to CSOs, and to whom shall they be accountable? The European Commission’s Green Paper indicates that CSOs will ‘support’ policy formulation and implementation, provide practical advice, inform and network, but not decide. The chair of the UN Panel of Eminent Persons, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, put the case as follows:  ‘The legitimacy of civil society organizations derives from what they do and not from whom they represent or from any kind of external mandate. In the final analysis, they are what they do. The power of civil society is a soft one. It is their capacity to argue, to propose, to experiment, to denounce, to be exemplary. It is not the power to decide.’ 14

1.  Released on 26 June 2006 the Green Paper on the role of civil society in drugs policy in the European Union (COM (2006) 316 final) seeks responses by 30 September 2006 to a number of questions set out on page 9 of the document. Submissions should be sent to:  European Commission, Directorate General for Justice, Freedom and Security, Unit C2 – Anti-Drugs Policy Co-ordination Unit, LX 46 1/88 – 1049 Brussels, Belgium. Email: JLS-rugspolicy@ec.europa.eu . Fax: 00 322 295 32 05.

2.   See   www.eesc.europa.eu/

3.  See www.cor.europa.eu/

4.  See ‘European governance’ COM (2001) 428 final. Retrieved 28 July 2006 at www.ec.europa.eu/governance/

5.  See ‘Towards a reinforced culture of consultation and dialogue – General principles and minimum standards for consultation of interested parties by the Commission’ COM (2002) 704 final. Retrieved 28 July 2006 at www.ec.europa.eu/civil_society/

6.  See CONNECS at www.ec.europa.eu/civil_society/

7.  See ‘Interactive policy making’ COM (2001) 1014 final, and also www.ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/ 

8.  See ‘European transparency initiative’ COM (2006) 194 final. Retrieved 28 July 2006 at www.ec.europa.eu/transparency/

9.  J Almer and M Rotkirch (2004) European Governance – An overview of the Commission’s agenda for reform (Stockholm: Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies) provide a useful account and assessment of the issues arising out of the implementation of the 2001 White Paper on European governance in relation to civil society. Retrieved 28 July 2006 at www.sieps.se

10.  See www.un.org/issues/civilsociety/

11.  See http://www.unodc.org/unodc/index.html?ref=menutop

12.  In June 2004 a Panel of Eminent Persons, appointed by the UN to assess and draw lessons from UN interaction with civil society with a view to enhancing interaction between them, released its 83-page report, ‘We the peoples: civil society, the United Nations and global governance’ (A/58/817). The following September the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, published his response, ‘Report of the Secretary General in response to the report of the panel of eminent persons on United Nations–Civil society relations’ (A/59/354). Documents retrieved 28 July 2006 at www.un.org/reform/civil-society.html

13.  See J Clark and Z Aydin (2003) ‘UN system and civil society – An inventory and analysis of practices’. Background paper for the Secretary-General’s panel of eminent persons on United Nations relations with civil society. Retrieved 28 July 2006 at www.un.org/reform/civil-society.html

14.  See F H Cardoso (2003) ‘Civil society and global governance.’ Contextual paper prepared by the Chairman of the high-level panel on UN–civil society. Section 4.2. Retrieved 28 July 2006 at www.un.org/reform/civil-society.html

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 19, Autumn 2006
July 2006
Page Range
pp. 19-20
Health Research Board
Issue 19, Autumn 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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