The new EU drug agency seeks stronger partnership with civil society

Rights Reporter Foundation


The new EU drug agency seeks stronger partnership with civil society

29 April 2024

This blog item is a cross-post with the Rights Reporter Foundation and was originally published here.

The EU’s drug monitoring agency organised a meeting with civil society in Lisbon to discuss future cooperation outlined in its new mandate. Read this short report about the meeting by Marie Nougier (IDPC) and Peter Sarosi!

The transformation of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) into a new agency, the European Drug Agency (EUDA), is a major development in European drug policies in 2024. The EMCDDA, the Lisbon-based agency that is in charge of collecting and analysing data about drugs and feeding them to decision makers, received a new mandate from the EU Commission and Parliament in June 2023 and will become the EUDA from July 2024. This is more than just a simple name/brand change: the agency will receive considerably more power and budget to support decision makers in three areas: monitoring, preparedness and competence development.

Part of the new EUDA’s mandate is the commitment to establish a new partnership with civil society. In the past, the relationship between the EMCDDA and civil society has traditionally been close and cordial, but rather informal and ad hoc. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, the EMCDDA organised several online meetings with civil society – including us, Drugreporter – to collect data on drug trends/access to services during lockdown (we wrote extensively about this issue on Drugreporter). Now the new mandate has opened the doors for a new opportunity to create a formal platform and mechanism for the EUDA to work more systematically and formally with civil society and community organisations.

As members of the Core Group of the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSFD), the expert group of the European Commission on drug affairs, we were invited by the EMCDDA to Lisbon to discuss how this new partnership may take shape between civil society and the EUDA. The meeting was a hybrid event: other EMCDDA researchers and civil society representatives from several European countries joined us online.

Danilo Ballotta, the EMCDDA’s Principal Drug Policy Analyst, presented the framework created by the new mandate. The document requires the EUDA to work with civil society in three forms: first, with civil society organisations, second, with communities affected by drug crime, and third, with communities of people with lived experience/people who use drugs.

Alexis Goosdeel, the Director of the EMCDDA/EUDA, assured civil society representatives that the process of involvement will be fully transparent and open. It will also facilitate the inclusion of civil society in consultations with third countries and international relations.

On behalf of the CSFD, we presented the work of the working groups of the Forum, including the one I chair on civil society involvement. We pointed out that the CSFD produced several guidelines and studies in recent years that will prove to be very helpful for the EUDA as it designs its own mechanism to work with civil society. For example, our Quality Standards for Civil Society Involvement report includes recommendations on how to ensure that the engagement is meaningful for both parties.

Civil society representatives pointed out that one of the key barriers identified by our studies is the lack of funding: most organisations have very limited resources for advocacy and consultations with decision makers. Unfortunately EU funding has been significantly curtailed by the EU Commission after the EC JUST Drug Policy Program was ended, with available funding since then having almost exclusively been allocated to supply reduction and drug prevention projects (read more about this issue here). Although Mr. Goosdeel emphasised that the EUDA will not be able to solve the funding crisis, many of us argued that even limited funding from EUDA could make a big difference for us.

According to the mandate, the EUAD will work with civil society in three ways: first, it should provide information to civil society, second, it should create a pool of knowledge, gained from civil society, and third, it should consult with civil society. The EUDA will create a dedicated communications platform, where civil society will be able to submit information. A contact person will be appointed by the Agency to coordinate the dialogue with civil society.

A possible area of cooperation is communications: civil society and the EUDA can mutually support each other to improve the dissemination of their findings and messages among the general population. The EUDA will create a new e-learning educational and training platform, PLATO, as well as a platform to provide information on safer festivals (SAFestivals). These two platforms already provide plenty of opportunities for civil society to feed into the work of the EUDA.

Another important avenue for collaboration between the EUDA and civil society relates to international cooperation (with the UN as well as third countries), for which the EUDA will now have dedicated resources. The EUDA has the opportunity to bring a stronger focus on human rights and health to the positions usually adopted by EU institutions, with support from the CSFD (which has a dedicated working group on international policy) and other civil society representatives.

In fact, a key issue highlighted by civil society as fundamental for the EUDA to push for within its new mandate relates to human rights, in particular the need for a systematic assessment of the impacts of drug policies on the lives, well-being and freedoms of affected communities. And in general, most civil society organisations would like to see more impact assessment of drug policies through human rights indicators (including the negative public health and social impacts of drug control), rather than just focusing on the usual process evaluations (such as how much drugs are seized, or how many people are arrested and incarcerated for drug offences).

For example, when a new substance is brought under control after a risk assessment conducted by the EMCDDA/EUAD, there is no follow up: did the measures taken by governments to respond to new substances reduce access to the drugs or did they only replace one drug with another, potentially more risky, substance? Were the health and social risks identified prior to the reforms reduced in any way? How did government measures affect the drug market overall, and the health and well-being of people who use drugs?

These questions lead us to another urgent, but largely ignored issue: how do we measure the success of supply-side interventions? Unlike with demand and harm reduction interventions, where relatively strict indicators are required, and where health and human rights indicators have slowly started being used by governments in various countries, there is no such thing happening for supply reduction interventions. Civil society representatives present at the meeting made it clear that a human rights impact assessment of supply-side policies was urgently needed, and the EUDA can play a fundamental role in pushing this agenda forward in the coming years.

One thing is clear: civil society, including the International Drug Policy Consortium and Rights Reporter Foundation, stand ready to support the EUDA as it is delineating the framework of their new mandate. At a time where the EU is shifting towards a securitisation of its drug policies, the EUDA will surely play a key role in ensuring that EU drug policy continues to prioritise health, social justice and human rights as its core – and this will only be possible with the strong and meaningful participation of civil society and communities.