1. On 6 and 7 March 2003, a High-Level Conference took place in Athens under the auspices of the Greek Presidency. Delegations from the Member States and the acceding States, representatives of the European Parliament, the Greek Parliament and the Parliaments of the acceding States, the European Commission, the Council Secretariat, the EMCDDA, the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe, UNODC, as well as representatives from the science and research community, took part in the Conference.
At the opening of the Conference the Greek Presidency stressed the need for cooperation and coordination of the activities of the EU Member States and for open dialogue; it was also necessary to seek pragmatic and effective policies based not on theoretical standpoints, but on day-to-day practice and scientific knowledge. The acceding States were urged to participate actively in the formulation of the European Union's policy on the issue of drugs. The Presidency explained that its intention with this Conference was to encourage dialogue, so that the different opinions expressed could be brought together, leading to a more effective policy. It was also emphasized that the aim of the Conference was, through the exchange of views, to contribute to the establishment of an EU position at the forthcoming 46th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) to be held in Vienna from 9 to 17 April 2003.
The participants welcomed the Conference as a unique opportunity for senior civil servants, politicians, scientists and researchers, as well as representatives of civil society, to meet and exchange ideas and suggestions for an overall coherent and coordinated EU policy on drugs. The importance of such a gathering was obvious when it was borne in mind that the European Union had completed the mid-term evaluation of the action plan 2000-2004.
At the seven sessions of the Conference the following items were discussed:
– EU policy
– International policy and the role of the UN Conventions
– Health and social support
– Criminal law measures
– Supply reduction and law enforcement
– Day-to-day practice
– Future developments.
This report is a summary of the discussions at the Conference and reflects the different views expressed. The report also expresses the intention of the Greek Presidency to continue the dialogue in the competent bodies of the European Union.
The policy of the European Union
As far as the EU policy is concerned, it was stressed that since the adoption of the EU drugs strategy in 1999, considerable progress had been made in implementing the Action Plan, but much work remained to be done in order to achieve its ambitious goals.
At the Conference it was recognized that progress had been made in the following fields:
– Coordination of drug policy in the Member States and at EU level
– The availability of reliable data
– The reinforced priority for prevention and treatment
– The cooperation between the law enforcement authorities of the Member States
– The development of initiatives to tackle the trafficking of synthetic drugs
– The reinforcement of the fight against money laundering
– The strengthening of national coordination mechanisms.
It was pointed out that the changes in the drug phenomenon, like the emergence of synthetic drugs, access to drugs through the internet and the new methods of treatment had led to the development of a more pragmatic and multi-faceted approach to the drug problem. In most EU countries the drug issue and, as a consequence, drug policy is considered an important part of public health. It has been stressed that it is necessary to incorporate treatment methods and social rehabilitation programmes into the system of public health and social welfare. This presupposes an educational curriculum for medical doctors and other professionals working in the health and social services. The serious consequences of drug dependency for public health and security are nowadays a reality that must be faced with complimentary measures that is to say programmes of harm reduction. An in depth debate was held on harm reduction. Reference was made to practices in various European countries and discussions took place on experimental treatment methods under drug free programmes, programmes using substitutes, programmes of prescription of heroin under medical control, needle exchange, injection rooms etc. The presentations made by scientists and researchers were highly appreciated. It was recognised that a number of approaches of harm reduction which until recently had been considered unacceptable are now everyday practice.
A debate was held on the criminal aspect of the drug problem. It was pointed out that the use of alternatives to punishment and, especially, imprisonment was widely acknowledged and accepted. This meant that drugs policy in this area is no longer oriented towards punishment but towards treatment, counselling, assistance, educational programmes and social integration. A fruitful debate was held on the issue of criminal justice, focusing on the punishment of users and treatment programmes in prisons. The fact that more than half of the prisoners are drug users or drug traffickers was found to be disturbing. The availability of narcotic substances in prisons is a major problem. Drug abuse, psychosomatic illnesses and transmissible diseases are the most serious problem for those imprisoned for drugs offences. In this field as well, methods and practices in the various European countries are developing.
The growing similarities in drug policy responses in the Member States do not mean that cultural differences should be ignored. Countries and regions have sufficient room to experiment and find out which approach works best. Such differentiation must be respected within the general framework of European Union policy.
The importance of a drugs policy based on scientific evidence, reliable information and systematic assessment is clear and is gaining ever more support. The promotion of new programmes is equally important. This approach should constitute the main priority of European drugs policy. The responsibilities and duties of European bodies and organisations dealing with drugs should be aligned. This requires coordination and cooperation in specific programmes. Duplication should be avoided. It was emphasised that in the case of the new Member States a political and financial commitment is needed in order to establish focal points of the type already operating in the current Member States.
On the issue of supply reduction, the Greek Presidency and participants who spoke pointed out that measures to combat drug traffickers is, as a rule, considered to be mainly a matter for the police. However, although the number of police engaged in combating drug trafficking has increased, as have seizures of illegal drugs, the availability of drugs and the number of drug users is not reduced. It has, therefore, to be realised that drug trafficking is not merely a matter for the police and criminal justice. Structural changes are required in the social economic field, in combating corruption, countering money laundering etc. Priority must be given to the employment of young people if the problem is to be dealt with as a whole and effectively.
The Greek Presidency stressed the importance of an overall plan for combating drug trafficking in the Balkan region. Trafficking in heroin from Central Asia and, in particular, Afghanistan takes place via the Balkan countries. Reference was made to the successful seminar on the Balkan routes for heroin trafficking and the Balkan action plan submitted by the Greek Presidency and being discussed by the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs. The Greek Presidency would welcome comments on the plan and any suggestions for supplementing it; it hopes that it will receive the support of the Member States and that a start would soon be made with its implementation.
Further to presentations by local politicians, representatives of civil society and contributions by participants, the debate on how to deal with the drug problem in large cities, showed that the problem is so serious that the member countries of the European Union can not allow themselves the luxury of a purely theoretical discussion but have to look for practical solutions. The cultural attitudes of youth and modern society in general to the use of drugs was discussed in detail. Synthetic drugs constitute the challenge to be confronted by European societies in the future, and effective ways of dealing with this problem need to be investigated. The need for early interventions is foreseen in the proposal that the Greek Presidency has submitted to the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs
It is proposed that the debate which had taken place during the conferences in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2001 and 2002 on cannabis should be continued. There is a need to examine how the findings of these conferences could best be followed up. Finally, reference is made to the initiative being discussed at the European Convention for including drugs in its basic documents as a complementary competence of the European Union. This proposal would promote the coordination of internal and external action, a more systematic exchange of information and the harmonisation of goals in the fight against drugs.
International policy on drugs and, in particular, the policy of the UN
With respect to international policy, and in particular the mid term review of the UN action plan to be discussed in Vienna in April 2003, it was recognised that some aspects of the plan had proved successful. This was the case as regards the more balanced approach to demand and supply reduction, and the standardization of drug related data, which would provide the basis for a more rational approach to the drugs problem. With improved reports, harmonised indicators and the promotion of methodologically better practices, data about drugs will be significantly improved worldwide. This will lead to a well-informed, evidence-based drugs policy. The requirement for the Member States and the United Nations to ensure that objective evaluations are carried out has already led to the practice at the United Nations to require the programmes it supports to provide information and pointers as to what actually works.
During the discussion about the position of the European Union at the 46th session in Vienna, different views were expressed and there was a lengthy debate about the differences which existed between the Member States. The Greek Presidency stressed, as it had done at the beginning of the Conference, that the purpose of these two days of the conference, was to have an open dialogue with everyday practice as the starting point. The competent bodies of the EU must examine which of the points put forward at the Conference should be further examined and discussed by the Member States.
The main tendencies which emerged were, on the one hand, the view that the UN conventions on drugs must be fully implemented rather than being a matter for discussion and possible amendment and, on the other hand, the view that the change in the international situation as regards trafficking and supply reduction, as well as the use of drugs, called for a dialogue aimed at establishing new bases for a more effective policy. In the context of this overall position, views were expressed which, in brief, related to the following points:
The UN conventions on drugs are not immutable. It is a matter of the democratic will of the Member States. Practical developments must be reflected in the evolution of the international conventions on drugs.
There is almost universal agreement on the usefulness of the three United Nations conventions on narcotic drugs. The conventions provide the framework for the harmonisation of the laws of the UN Member States on drugs. The large majority of States throughout the world (85%) and all the Member States of the European Union have signed and ratified the three conventions on drugs. The conventions could, however, be improved on the basis of the new conditions. They could, for example, include provisions which in Europe are everyday practice in many Member States, such as harm reduction, use of alternative strategies instead of imprisonment and punishment of simple drug users. The recognition that users are not criminals but people in need of help and treatment should be considered as an improvement in the existing conventions.
A review of the effectiveness of the three international conventions should be made in the framework of an open debate and taking account the historical changes in the international situation which have resulted in a different reality than the one at the period when the conventions have been set up.
The differences and contradictions between the conventions must be identified and discussed on the basis of scientific and medical developments and not on the basis of political options.
There must be a discussion of the degree of freedom which the conventions allow to the Member States, in order to find a balance between their universal application and differentiation by the Member States. Where no consensus can be achieved, agreement must be found on the possibilities for flexibility and differentiation, taking into account cultural, religious and legal diversity in different parts of the world.
Attention must be given to the matter raised by Bolivia and Peru, namely the status of the coca leaf. This is not an issue solely for those countries, but also of the European Union.
The European Union must help to find a common definition and a common framework of the practices of harm reduction. The UN is, on this point, confronted with a lack of clarity as to the extent that drug use is discouraged and abstinence encouraged. In the search for agreement on this point, the contribution of the European Union is necessary.
Scientific and analytical work on the drugs issue must be strengthened. Studies which have been implemented and repeatedly evaluated may make what was unacceptable acceptable. In this context the needle exchange, the medical prescription of heroin, the therapeutic uses of cannabis and its inclusion in a different schedule to that laid down in the 1961 and 1971 Conventions need to be examined.
A dialogue which overcomes the mentality of blame and rejection is needed. Drugs are a social problem which requires the contribution of all in the search for best practices.
To address and concretise the above suggestions and ideas, it is proposed to establish during or after the April conference in Vienna an inter-agency advisory group, composed of experts from various UN and other international entities. At this advisory group can participate agencies like the UNDCP Research Section, the UN World Drug Report team, the WHO, UNAIDS, the INCB, the EMCDDA and the OAS/CICAD. Such an expert group, with proper participation procedures for academics, NGO’s and stakeholders, could undertake an impact evaluation of the UNGASS measures, analyse in detail the relationship between harm reduction approaches and the conventions, and recommend to the CND appropriate adjustments to the current drug control framework.
The Greek Presidency of the European Union proposes that the discussions held in Athens should continue during the three following Presidencies (Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands) until the end of the current European Union action plan. The new 2005-2010 action plan could incorporate elements developed at the Athens Conference.
This report will be transmitted by the Greek Presidency to the competent bodies preparing the ministerial segment of the next CND meeting in Vienna.
The Greek Presidency noted France's wish for its cooperation on the conference to be organised by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs on 21 and 22 May in Paris. The Greek Presidency is delighted with this invitation and will cooperate to the best of its ability as regards the conference.
The participants expressed their satisfaction at the way the conference had been organised and at the opportunity afforded to all parties concerned with the drugs issue to discuss matters at the same table. They proposed that similar meetings should be repeated in the future.