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Bob Keizer: “…the highest priority has been to improve the dialogue between politicians, researchers and practitioners at grass-roots level.”

At the Pompidou Group’s Ministerial Conference(Strasbourg, November 2006), Bob Keizer, who has chaired the meeting of Pompidou Group permanent correspondents since 2003 on behalf of the Dutch Presidency, reviewed the work of the last three years.

Question: What is the specific role of the Pompidou Group especially considering the existence of the European Union’s European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). What purpose does the Pompidou Group serve today?

Bob Keizer: Don’t under-estimate the Pompidou Group which is Europe’s oldest and largest working group on drugs. It’s an open and multidisciplinary structure which brings together justice officials, researchers, doctors, social workers, police, customs officials and policy makers at local level, etc.

Its strength is the vast possibilities it offers for highly competent experts to exchange information in a relaxed atmosphere. This role is vital for all who are concerned with the development of quality drugs policy making at European level. For example, it undertakes in-depth studies in schools, develops consumption indicators, carries out studies on customs control systems, examines the situation in prisons and also trains field workers, etc.

It is true that the European Union, unlike the Pompidou Group, has regulatory powers and a much stronger financial base. Also, with the European Union’s expansion, the Pompidou Group’s risks being weakened because one of it’s principle functions has been bridging the gap between east and west.

For these reasons, the member States carried out In 2003 an evaluation of the Pompidou Group and an in-depth discussion of its modernisation. The Group will retain an attractive role while avoiding duplication of work with the European Union, WHO and the United Nations. New working methods and new structures have been implemented.

The Pompidou Group will preserve its unique role in bringing together expert platform groups from east and west covering subjects linked to human rights and ethics but also good day-to-day practice from grass-roots level.

Question: After three years of Dutch presidency, what results would you highlight?

Bob Keizer: These three years, the highest priority has been to improve the dialogue between politicians, researchers and practitioners at grass-roots level. The problem, in our area, is insufficient communication between practitioners, for example, in the field of prevention; the effectiveness of programmes becomes seriously undermined. Many awareness raising campaigns are ineffective and expensive. Other approaches are more effective; for example discussion with young people about their relationship with drugs.

Experts’ work in the prevention field should be taken seriously. This work has systematically been neglected by policy makers and politicians who have favoured short term results through the implementation of dramatic measures, for example compulsory screening in schools - a trend which is entirely counter-productive.

The universal problem is the need to be tolerant whilst ensuring prohibition. There is a widening gulf between declared policies and the reality of day to day practice.

The Pompidou Group has always tried to close this gap because the credibility of public action is at stake. As there is no unique response to the question of drugs, we must find a balance between discussion and action. We must avoid concentrating on a single and exclusive subject. Responses are complex and only provide results in the long term.