TO TALK ABOUT DRUGS IS NOT AN INSULT – NEVERTHELESS IT IS FORBIDDEN IN SWEDEN
Open letter of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policy to Mrs. Margareta Wallström, Vice President of the European Commission, responsible for Institutional Relationships and Communication Strategy.
Antwerpen, 6 February 2006,
Dear Mrs. Margot Wallström,
As steering committee members of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), we would like to inform you of a serious attack on the fundamental right of association which is currently taking place against one of our members, the Swedish Drug Users’ Union (Svenska Brukarforeningen, SBF) based in Stockholm, Sweden.
On Wednesday 1 February 2006, Member of Swedish Parliament Birgitta Rydberg openly questioned the fact that SBF, whose activities are partly financed by the Stockholm city council, is a member organisation of ENCOD. As a result SBF has been obliged to temporarily suspend its membership to ENCOD.
Both SBF and ENCOD are legal associations. SBF’s purpose is to defend the rights of Swedish drug users and co-operate with authorities in order to reduce the harm related to drugs in Sweden. ENCOD is a European platform of over 120 citizens’ associations and individuals from 24 European countries, who are affected and/or deeply concerned by current drug policies. Since 1993, we have been working together in order to develop constructive proposals for alternative approaches to the issue of illicit drugs, based on local experiences and expertise gained by being connected to the daily reality for millions of people who are affected by drug policies in- and outside Europe.
ENCOD members, among them social organisations, research institutes and companies, strongly believe that the current universal prohibition of drugs is not able to address drug problems adequately, and instead we promote the idea that Europe should adopt a different, co-ordinated approach towards drugs, with room for national experiments and interpretations of international agreements. Also, due regard should be paid to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.
In December 2004, the European Parliament adopted a set of recommendations towards future EU drug policy that broadly suscribes to these principles as well. A petition to support the European parliament report obtained almost 60.000 signatures of EU citizens, among them 1370 from Sweden.
We consider the pressure on our Swedish member to give up its ENCOD membership or face the cancellation of its public funding as totally unacceptable. In a democracy that Sweden and the European Union declare to be, people have the right to express themselves and to associate with legal organisations. Furthermore, it is extremely important that they are given the freedom to associate themselves on a European Union level, particularly in the current situation, where, as you write yourself in a press release of 1 February 2006, “the European Union has grown up as a political project but has not found a place in people’s hearts and minds.”
We would also like to refer to the fact that on Thursday 26 January 2006, at a Conference organised by the European Commission JFS Directorate on the subject of “Civil Society and Drugs”, the only representatives of Swedish civil society who were present were the members of a European network (European Cities Against Drugs, ECAD). One of them, Tomas Hallberg, had been specifically invited by the European Commission to give a keynote speech to this conference. During this speech, Mr. Hallberg showed “statistical information” that was supposed to deliver the evidence that, according to ECAD, “needle exchange does not reduce the HIV/AIDS epidemy” and “there are 50% more cannabis related deaths in Sweden than heroin related deaths”.
We do not want to deny ECAD the right to make these kinds of statements, although there is overwhelming evidence available inside the European Union institutions (among others the annual EMCDDA reports) to prove that they lack any reliable basis in fact. But if the European Commission specifically facilitates these kinds of statements, then other Swedish citizens or their representatives should have the right to raise their voice and be part of the debate as well.
Therefore, we would like to ask you to address yourself to the Swedish authorities, and transmit to them your concern about the fundamental rights of Swedish citizens and in particular the Brukarforeningen to express themselves on drug policies and be associated to ENCOD. To talk about drugs is a matter of democracy too.
We address this request to you not because you are Swedish, but above all, because the European Union Action Plan on Communication, which was elaborated under your responsability in July 2005, includes concrete plans for the European Commission “to get closer to citizens and be more responsive to their concerns.”
A copy of this letter has been sent to Mr. Franco Frattini, Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security.
We hope to hear from you soon.
Farid Ghehioueche, Marina Impallomeni, Christine Klüge, Virginia Montañes, Joep Oomen and Jan van der Tas