Side Event: Good Practices in Cross-Sectoral Cooperation: Civil Society Involvement in Policymaking in Europe

Organized by Finland and Spain, and Civil Society Forum on Drugs in Europe, Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network, European Union, Foreningen for Human Narkotikapolitikk, International Drug Policy Consortium, Rights Reporter Foundation and Youth Organisations for Drug Action.

Moderator – Marie Nougier, International Drug Policy Consortium: Talking about good practice examples of how civil society and government can work together. Two case studies: EU and Norway. Collaborative relationship with the EU has improved year after year.

Iga Kender-Jeziorska, Youth Organisations for Drug Action and Civil Society Forum on Drugs in Europe: Will share a few examples of work in the EU. 40-45 NGOs for three year terms on Civil Society Forum on Drugs. Platform for structured dialogue and support of drug policy formulation and implementation. Advocacy, tools, and research as three areas. With respect to advocacy, contributed to drafting of EU action plan in 2017. Includes ham reduction and alternatives to coercive sanctions. Contributed to evaluation of EU drug strategy. Meeting in the European parliament to make them more familiar with current and future issues. Contributions to the dialogues with bilaterals. With respect to tools, briefing paper of guidance for NGOs on how to use EU drug policy documents for national advocacy. Guidelines for implementing minimum quality standards. With respect to research, study on the implementation of EU drug strategy at national level. Surveyed professionals in the field about access and quality of prevention activities. Innovations like drug checking. Case studies of Spain, Portugal, and Ireland. In 2018, there was a conference on civil society involvement in drug policy. Working group on minimum quality standards conducted a feasibility study to see if the tool is feasible and implementable. While these are initiatives of Civil Society Forum on Drugs by NGOs, they wouldn’t be possible without support from EU. Governments communicate priorities and timelines that NGOs can respond to. Financial support in the form of grants.

Elina Kotovirta, Finland: Civil Society Forum on Drugs has been an evolving collaboration. Learning on both sides. Supported us during our presidency. Supported current president (Croatia) and previous president (Romania). Had informal meetings. Practical ways we work together include sharing our meeting schedule for coordination and having meetings back to back. Contributions of Civil Society Forum on Drugs were discussed in the national drug coordinators meeting. Civil Society Forum on Drugs provides input on draft resolutions, statements, and other valuable input for the CND. Cooperation has been mutual. Civil society are easy to approach. Challenges include reality that government and civil society work in different ways. Governments are so slow. Serve the government and there are bureaucratic and administrative barriers. Rules and procedures for sharing documents. We have to find easy ways to operate around administrational barriers and challenges around confidentiality. Want to be transparent on the side of government. Social media as a risk for revealing confidential government positions. Imperative that these are not shared. Meeting at this CND of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs. Important to have confidentiality. Although there are barriers and challenges, they are conquerable. Valuable that EU has this system. Truly believe that we are improving and learning from each other.

Carl-Erik Grimstad, Norway: “Nothing about us without us.” Slogan belonging to dealing with drug policy. Vital part of central European position. Talking about human rights for all groups and layers of society. We are at the forefront of these rights and have a good record. Has not been the case for people who use drugs. Law on decriminalization has not yet been finalized but will take effect in the next two years. Joined parliament committee and was introduced to organizations advocating for a more liberal stand on drug issues. Struck by their tenacity and motivation. Civil society has been vital to improving relations. Visited Portugal, Canada, California, and Netherlands to learn about their approaches to addressing drug issues. In meeting with Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) in Portugal, asked about vital outcomes of decriminalization. Answered as destigmatization. High overdose deaths in our country. Reducing stigma is essential. Decriminalization is not an end in itself, but a step towards treating people as patients, not criminals. Need health workers, police, and general public on board. Call for participation of civil society. Encouraging user organizations to take a leading role in this field.

Arild Knutsen, Foreningen for Human Narkotikapolitikk: I have been a problematic drug user most of my life. Have been considered as garbage but now am one of the biggest resources. We are negated on every level. We had a racist policy of prohibition. HIV epidemic considered bigger problem than the drug problem. Have to talk to people with lived experience. In 2004, got patient rights and access to substitution treatment. In 2005, got first drug consumption room. Lots of conservatives wanted to close it down and wanted to limit access to substitution treatment to a few hundred people. We went to the parliament with banners and posters, and they let us in. First decriminalization in the parliament in 2008 when drug users came in with their drugs. Media is very interested. We must prevent HIV, hepatitis C, offer harm reduction including naloxone, and inspire injection drug users to smoke instead of inject. Overdose national strategy from the parliament. Tolerance and pragmatism that we have never had before. Travelled around the country and seen a change in opinion. Drug users union have power and are working together with respect for politicians. In 2016, we had a petition in the biggest newspaper on decriminalization, more harm reduction and treatment, and involvement of people who use drugs at the CND. Came to fruition. Very proud.

Questions & Answers:

  • We are presenting the Rome Consensus. More humanitarian approach for drug users worldwide. Would like to ask you to endorse.
  • Is it okay that EU decides who represents civil society? Shouldn’t civil society decide themselves?
    • Government choosing who is representing civil society. Commission is choosing based on diversity in geography and opinion. Will pass along this suggestion to the commission.
    • Civil Society Forum on Drugs members are happy with commission picking civil society since we would have a conflict of interest. Hope they can extend beyond the national level.
  • How are user voices incorporated in the evaluation of EU strategy?
    • In the original research design, there were no plans for involving associations of people who use drugs. Had first meeting with evaluator and raised this issue. At that point, evaluation design had already been accepted. Towards the end of data collection, reached out to organize a focus group with representatives of people who use drugs to be involved in the final evaluation. They were open to change.
  • Excellent presentation. Members of Civil Society Forum on Drugs have been very helpful. First community based drug policy conference in Athens. Conference was supported by EU parliament of Greece. How to advance these discussions in Greece?
    • Drug policy reform is good for your economy in the long run, though it is focused on humanitarian rationales. Perhaps that can be a persuasive point in Greece.
  • Messages delivered to persuade people who use drugs to come and fight for their rights?
    • You have to do good and work hard. Write to different stakeholders. Can be advisors for them. Knowledge-based messages. Get policymakers on board.

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