Pompidou Group Ministerial Conference

Stavanger , 

Check against delivery

Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here in Stavanger for this 17th Ministerial Conference of the Pompidou Group, and I thank you and your team, Minister, for hosting us today.

In just a few moments we will see a new presidency and vice-presidency elected.

So this is indeed a perfect occasion both to take stock of what has been achieved in recent years, and to consider the challenges that lie ahead.

I want to begin then by paying tribute to the very significant progress made by the Pompidou Group under the Norwegian presidency.

Mr Høie has already mentioned the approach that Norway has adopted, but with customary Norwegian understatement, he did not do full justice to what his country – and he personally, as Minister for Health – has achieved.

I am more than happy to do that job for him.

The Pompidou Group has always worked to promote the Council of Europe’s key values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

But it was under this presidency that human rights moved from being a key aspect of our efforts to combat drug abuse to being the core, organising principle of our evidence-led approach:

Seeing each drug user as an individual whose dignity must be respected;

Spreading knowledge and understanding about the consequences stemming from various strategies adopted by others to counter the world drug problem;

And thereby helping to shape drug policies that are efficient and effective on the one hand – and implemented in a way that respects human rights on the other.

As stated last year by the Permanent Correspondents of the Pompidou Group, this is:

“Bringing human rights into drug policy development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation”.

Similarly, it was right to take the conscious decision to engage civil society actors – including representatives of drug users – to participate in the search for solutions:

A practice that led to the 2016 policy paper promoting “Government interaction with civil society on drug policy issues: Principles, ways and means, opportunities and challenges”.

Expert opinion is vital, but so too is a practical understanding of the issues and difficulties – and
people – that are part of this story.

This is an evidence-informed, people-centred, human-rights based method; a far cry from the hard line war on drugs approach which has now been discredited in the eyes of so many.

A measure of the Pompidou Group strategy’s potential is the level of international engagement that it is attracting.

We have a strong and fruitful relationship with the European Commission and its Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, both of which I am happy to see represented here today.

But as a Council of Europe Enlarged Partial Agreement, the Pompidou Group’s influence has reached beyond our member states’ borders in recent years.

Morocco, Israel and Mexico have joined; Tunisia is about to become our 40th member state; and countries from the Southern Mediterranean region and the Americas have expressed an interest in co-operating too.

And we also engage effectively with the OSCE, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime and, of course, 2016’s UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, where the Pompidou Group’s practices had a strong influence on both the Operational Recommendations and the evaluation methods that help to gauge their effectiveness.

So as the war on drugs recedes, a humane, European approach to drugs policy is winning influence and gaining ground – and that is thanks to the Pompidou Group, under Norway’s presidency.

But – as always – there is more to do.

The new presidency will not only take on the challenge of strengthening further these international relationships and sharing our ideas and approach more widely –

It must also adapt to the changing nature of the drugs challenge in our fast-paced world.

I note that the new work programme, submitted for your adoption today, includes some of these key, global challenges:

I would just cite drug-related internet use and cybercrime, for example.

Given what the Pompidou Group has achieved thus far, I have no doubt that further progress will be made in the coming years:

Extending yet further the human rights dimension to the health, education and good governance aspects of drug policy.

And I know that the Political Declaration that you are invited to adopt today aims to help the Pompidou Group to remain at the forefront of the European – and world –wide effort.

By revisiting the Group’s mandate, operation and working methods, you will open the door to a Statutory Resolution by the Committee of Ministers and ensure that you are fit for the future – and, in this, you can count on the support of both the Secretary General and myself.

So, over the course of today and tomorrow I look forward to hearing more detailed discussion about all of the issues identified and our means to address them.

But we certainly begin this Conference on an upbeat note, knowing that our approach to a difficult challenge is having a positive impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our societies – and that our eagerness to share our ideas and instruments gives us the potential to help many more in a globalised world.

Thank you.