Santer gives backing to drugs debate

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The Independent Online
A WAR OF words over drugs policy between the European Union and the United Nations erupted yesterday after the president of the European Commission backed the right of one of its top officials to support decriminalisation of all drugs.

Jacques Santer rejected a UN allegation that commissioner Emma Bonino who openly supports the end of prohibition had been conducting "a misinformation campaign". Ms Bonino has already allied herself to the Independent On Sunday's campaign to decriminalise cannabis.

In a strongly worded letter to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, Mr Santer expressed "solidarity" with Ms Bonino and signalled that he himself favours a "debate" on a number of fundamental questions relating to drugs policy. There was "nothing disturbing" he said in calling for a "reflection" on current drugs policy.

The Brussels executive is to have its first policy debate on drugs policy in mid-April and in this context Mr Santer's call for a review is highly significant, say insiders. Sources said that Mr Santer was anxious to have a frank debate about the direction of EU policy amid concern that efforts up to now focused for example on giving aid to communities in Latin America have failed.

Mr Santer's call for a reorientation of policy also comes in the context of the EU's decision to open membership negotiations with Poland where most synthetic drugs used in the EU are now manufactured. "For years now, European governments have issued statements on the scourge of drugs but beyond that nobody, neither commissioners nor ministers actually knows what we are doing. People are afraid of holding a debate at political level" one senior official admitted.

The commission president's intervention came in response to an attack on Ms Bonino by the UN director-general for drug control and crime prevention. Pino Arlacchi had accused Ms Bonino of abusing her position as EU human rights commissioner to promote a liberalisation agenda which runs counter to official EU policy. Her behaviour was "incompatible with the role and functions of a top official of the European Commission", he said.

Mr Arlacchi also complained about Ms Bonino's "unacceptable tone and derogatory language" and said her main objective appeared to be to "ridicule the efforts undertaken by the international community". She continued to "overlook and omit the fact that psychoactive drugs are dangerous to users and to society".

In his reply, Mr Santer defended Ms Bonino's right to raise questions about future policy on drugs. In her article, published by the Spanish daily El Pais, Ms Bonino wrote: "The war on drugs is lost". EU officials said Mr Santer was not necessarily associating himself with this opinion but agreed that debate on the subject was overdue.