Ministerial Conference of the Pompidou Group to tackle drug policy challenges

Strasbourg , 

The use and trafficking of illegal drugs continue to pose serious threats to health and safety in our societies. Around the world, policy-makers have realised that a traditional ‘war on drugs' approach has not succeeded in significantly reducing levels of drug use.

Against this background, governments are focusing on balanced, coherent and integrated strategies aimed at containing the scale of the illegal market, while at the same time minimising the associated harms such as drug-related crime, risks to public health and the social impact on families and communities. Hence the theme of this Ministerial Conference of the Pompidou Group, "Towards a coherent policy on psycho-active substances".

Policy-makers can feel overwhelmed by the mass of analysis, research, policy options and often polarised debate in the drug policy field. They are also pressured by a public and media that want quick solutions, and criticise them for failing, or for being ‘soft on drugs'. In addition, crime and citizen insecurity concerns often result in popular support for hard-line approaches to drug and crime issues.

The Pompidou Group aims to promote objective and open debate on the effectiveness, direction and content of drug policies at national and international level. In order to achieve this, the Pompidou Group's core mission is to contribute to the development of multidisciplinary, innovative, effective and evidence-based drug policies in its member states. It seeks to link Policy, Practice and Science, and focuses especially on the realities of local implementation of drug programmes.

The shifting, dynamic nature of the drug phenomenon has required the Group to adapt its role in order to deal with emerging problems and changes in the drug situation. Flexibility and capacity for innovation are two key attributes that have assisted the Group in meeting this challenge.

Against an international background characterised by the presence of many European and international bodies working on drugs, the Pompidou Group provides a multidisciplinary forum at the wider European level where it is possible for policy-makers, professionals and researchers to discuss and exchange information and ideas on the whole range of drug use and trafficking problems.

Law enforcement agencies at airports play a significant role in reducing the supply in drugs and drug precursors. Concealment and trafficking techniques change constantly and have to be caught up with by new detection methods. The need for constant awareness concerning such development and finding the appropriate responses is regularly met by our Airports Group.

The Pompidou Group's capacity to facilitate dialogue between Europe and its neighbouring regions through co-operation, exchange and capacity-building was demonstrated through the setting up and consolidating of the Co-operation Network in the Mediterranean Region (MedNET). Its membership has increased from the original five to twelve countries today.

The increasing diversity of drugs users' groups require a comprehensive and flexible response, and co-operation between law-enforcement, social and health services. In responding to a proposal by Finnish EU Presidency in 2007, the Pompidou Group has now set up a new network, which provides a mechanism of co-operation between the various actors tackling drug-related problems. EXASS Net is unique in being a direct link that provides knowledge and experiences about good practice at front-line level in ‘real time' to policy-makers.

But fundamental divisions between health and criminal justice systems about how to best address drug problems are still apparent. We must overcome these to help nurture and sustain effective and balanced partnerships between these sectors. Because only together through a concerted effort can they make a difference in the endeavour to break the link between drugs and crime.

The Pompidou Group has always been at the forefront in addressing ethics and human rights issues related to drug control policies. It can provide member states with guidance on drug screening in schools and in the workplace. Ethical questions emerging from new ‘drug-proofing' methods such as ‘vaccination' against cocaine have mostly recently been tackled.

The Pompidou Group is at a crossroads, not only because in the last ten years international and European co-operation has increased, but also because strong divides still exist between countries about how to best tackle the drug issues.

Forty years ago the Pompidou Group was set up under the initiative of the late French President Georges Pompidou. It was set up primarily as a repression mechanism to stop the increasing drug flow between France and the United States, the so-called "French Connection". Ten years later, in 1980, the Group was integrated in the Council of Europe, as an Enlarged Partial Agreement to work on drug abuse and illicit trafficking of drugs. The decisions made (at the time) then take on their full importance today and point the way for the future.

The Pompidou Group needs to consolidate its work and membership, first of all to the Council of Europe member countries of South-East Europe and Eastern Europe. We have to launch co-operation programmes in the countries of those regions, such as the one which was recently launched in Moldova on "Harm Reduction in Prisons".

In 1980, the Committee of Ministers understood that drugs know no borders and that co-operation had to go beyond the borders of Europe, first and foremost to its neighbouring regions, but not only. The Group has been doing that, and I am happy to see so many high representatives of our Southern neighbours here today, as well as the Vice-President of the Republic of Columbia. This co-operation needs to be reinforced and I am happy that the Kingdom of Morocco was invited by the Committee of Ministers to become a member state of the Pompidou Group.

The Pompidou Group received a double mandate as it was set up in the framework of the Council of Europe: it has to fight the abuse of drugs in our societies, but also the illicit trafficking of drugs. In today's terms, this means to be active both in the fields of demand reduction, but also in the field of supply reduction, and I would also add to that ‘harm reduction'.

The Pompidou Group must become an action mechanism that provides guidance and support to our member states and can also implement actions and programmes in the field. I will make no secret of the fact that I see this in close co-operation with the European Commission, which has been a partner in the Pompidou Group since the early eighties. The Memorandum of Understanding with the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Abuse which we are about to conclude, will bring this co-operation to a yet higher level.

As you know, as Secretary General, my mandate for the Council of Europe is one of Reform of the Organisation. This also applies to its annex structures and institutions, such as the Pompidou Group. The Group, as the rest of the Council of Europe will have to stand the efficiency test and further prove its capacity to respond to the member states' needs, both the states that will join today and those who are already parties to it.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the results of the Pompidou Group's work in the past years provide valuable and reliable information to help national authorities to establish coherent national anti-drug policies. I am convinced that under the new Presidency and Vice-Presidency that you are about to elect, the Group will reinforce its response capacity to the member states and strengthen its co-operation activities within Europe and its neighbouring regions.