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Randall, Niamh (2008) EU Civil Society Forum on Drug Issues. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 25, Spring 2008 , p. 24.

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The first meeting of the EU Civil Society Forum on Drug Issues was held in Brussels on 13 and 14 December 2007. Two Irish networks were among the 26 networks from EU member states selected to participate in the Forum,1 the Drug Policy Action Group and CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign. Participation is for a two-year period, at the end of which there will once again be an open call for participants.

The establishment of this Forum is an important development in that it demonstrates the EU’s willingness to accept that drug issues warrant discussion and that much of the expertise lies in the community. However, the EU recognises its limited powers in these matters, except in the areas of border control and policing, raising questions about how much real impact the EU Drugs Strategy can have within individual member states.
 
The meeting had three main themes: (1) the Drugs Prevention and Information Programme; (2) drugs and prisons; (3) the EU Action Plan on Drugs. Participants initially met as a plenary group but then broke into two parallel working groups to discuss themes 2 and 3.
 
The Drugs Prevention and Information Programme (2007–2012) This programme was presented to participants as a potential funding opportunity. As part of the programme, there will be a call in early 2008 for proposals for grant funding from organisations in all EU member states under various themes, including the creation of multidisciplinary networks, drug prevention and harm reduction, civil society involvement, and monitoring and evaluation of specific actions under the Action Plans 2005–2008 and 2008–2012.2
 
Drugs and prisons
EU work to date in relation to this matter was presented to participants. An external contractor was employed in 2006 to report on prevention, treatment and harm reduction services for people in prison, reintegration services for people upon release, and current approaches to monitor and analyse drug use among prisoners. This report was due to be finalised towards the end of 2007.
 
The Working Group on Drugs and Prisons was asked to ‘discuss and report on common views for the preparation of the future proposal for a Council recommendation on drugs and prison’, bearing in mind the presentation they had just heard and their own experiences. The issues raised included: equivalency of care issues, access to and the structure of treatment in prison, discharge plans and civil/human rights violations of prisoners in general, but especially of drug-using prisoners.
 
EU Action Plan on Drugs
The objective of the Working Group on the EU Action Plan on Drugs was to provide insights from civil society relevant to the evaluation of the Action Plan on Drugs 2005–2008 and, crucially, to the development of the Action Plan on Drugs 2009–2012. Issues raised included: polydrug use and the need for a wide range of treatment interventions, the needs of mobile drug users and of under-18s, and the need for a glossary of terms and definitions to accompany EU documents on drug issues.
 
The Action Plan 2009–2012 will be developed within the framework of the EU Drugs Strategy 2005–2012. Members of civil society can contribute to this process by sending written submissions on these points to the Commission.3 It was emphasised that submissions should be ‘realistic’ and ‘to the point’ and that the Commission would decide ‘how’ and ‘when’ contributions would be used.
 
Reflections
• Some aspects of the organisation of the Forum ran contrary to the spirit of civil society engagement: o Details about the location and timing of the event were sent to members very late in the process. This meant that a number of networks, including Drugscope UK and the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), were unable to attend. This limited the scope and the quality of debate and feedback. o Documentation (including the agenda) was not received in advance of the event, so that participants were unaware of what issues to prepare for and were unable to consult with their membership. o Participants were presented with a large folder of documents upon arrival and had little time to read them and respond comprehensively and, again, had no opportunity to consult members.
• The Commission exerts very strong control in relation to the use of contributions and submissions.
• Participants were asked to leave ideologies ‘outside the room’. This proved very difficult for some participants and made some discussions difficult.
 
Next steps
In the light of the problems outlined above and the fact that the new Action Plan will be developed during March/April 2008, it was suggested that the Forum meet again in Spring, allowing participants time to consult with their members and provide valuable feedback and recommendations. The Commission did acknowledge and apologise for the manner in which the event was organised and the delay in sending documentation, promising to do better in the future. They agreed to send a full list of Forum participants and a summary report to all who attended; they also agreed to explore the possibility of having a meeting in Spring 2008. As yet, there has been no feedback on these matters.
 
However, despite the difficulties outlined, there is still value in engaging in this process for the following reasons:
• It provides an opportunity to influence the new Action Plan on Drugs 2009–2012.
• Although the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plans have no legal basis, recommendations made in such documents can be used as leverage in negotiations and can guide best practice.
• It is an opportunity to network, to learn and to influence other Forum members and the Commission, specifically the Drug Coordination Unit.
 
(Niamh Randall, with thanks to Anna Quigley from CityWide)
Niamh Randall is Policy and Communications Officer with Merchants Quay Ireland and Coordinator of the Drug Policy Action Group.
1. EURAD is also a participant in the Forum. However, while the network’s headquarters are in Ireland it is, in fact, a European network.
2. Application forms and guidance will be available on the following websites in mid February 2008: http://ec.europa.eu/justice_home/funding/intro/funding_rights_en.htm
Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 25, Spring 2008
Date:2008
Page Range:p. 24
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 25, Spring 2008
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Available)
Subjects:VA Geographic area > Europe
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Policy > Policy on drugs and alcohol

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