Aims and priorities of the Greek EU-presidency

17 November 2005

Aims and priorities of the Greek EU-presidency
Giorgos A. Papandreou
Article from the Greek newspaper ELEFTHEROTYPIA
(Unofficial translation via a third language by Jan G. van der Tas)

Harmonizing theory and practice

For drug policy the competencies of the Ministry of  Foreign Affairs in the framework of the Greek EU presidency are of considerable importance. The Foreign Minister Giorgos Papandreou, in a statement, explains the priorities the Greek Presidency has set itself.

"The Greek Presidency aims at creating the foundations for an integrated, coordinated and effective policy for drugs in Europe. In a conference in Athens planned for the spring of 2003, the results of the European Actionplan decided upon in the year 2000 shall be discussed. New ways will be explored for implementing the activities proposed in this actionplan. We intend to develop directives for formulating a new EU actionplan that has to be decided upon by the end of 2004.

One of the themes that have to be discussed openly and without preconceived ideas, is the difference that in this field exists between theory and practice. European drugpolicy is not unambiguous. The theory is more rigid than its application in practice. All EU member states have ratified the UN treaties on the fight against drugs, but in everyday life counties deviate from the precepts contained therein. Deviations that are dictated by the requirements of practical policy. Thus users of cannabis, a forbiddeen substance according to the treaties, are prosecuted in almost none of the member states. There are even countries were cannabis is freely sold without any legal action being brought against the sellers. In this way practice contradicts theory.

Yet we all tend to hold back when asked to take steps to bring the theory into line with the needs of practical life. It is my opinion that we must develop our drug policies not on the basis of dogmatic points of view and positions, but in the light of scientific insight and with a view to the effectiveness of our interventions in practice. That is what we call evidence based policies.

We observe that in Europe the climate for the exchange of experience and for cooperation between EU member states with regard to the methods applied against drug addiction, is a positive one. There is no longer just a negative attitude and a sharp rebuttal of new policies against drug addiction. On indication to this effect is the use of substitutes as a method for the treatment of drug addicts.

During the Greek Presidency we intend to act in support of this positive climate and make proposals for the furtherance of programs of social integration and for alternative measures that can take the place of criminal proceedings. Measures that offer drug addicts chances for employment and effective methods in therapy.

One subject that the Greek EU presidency is going to give its particular attention is the international dimension of drug policy. The international treaties proclaiming the interdiction of and the fight against drugs have so far not shown to be effective.

Organized crime that dominates both the production of and the trafficking in drugs has become a strong economic factor in our world. It stretches over the whole world and the technological means it uses are of enormous influence. The use of the internet confronts us with new problems in this field. It is therefore necessary that we seek new ways of attacking the rings of production and trafficking more effectively.

In April 2003 the next yearly session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs will convene in Vienna. It will fall to the Greek Presidency to voice the EU position with regard to the world wide approach to the drug problem. It is my opinion that a first step in seeking new ways to approach drugs, should consist in a thorough evaluation of the international drug treaties. We must verify their effectiveness, shortcomings must be brought into the open and proposals must be tabled to find new ways for formulating and applying drug policies.

Furthermore and In the framework of a more general target of the Greek Presidency, i.e. stressing the geopolitical importance of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, we shall not fail to put the theme "drugs in relation to the trafficking routes on the Balkans and how to fight them" on the agenda.