‘Cooperation in the drugs field must cross borders if we are to build a more accurate picture of the drug situation and responses to it in the EU and its neighbouring countries’, says Wolfgang Götz, Director of the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA). The comment comes as the agency prepares to open up its next Reitox meeting to countries outside the EU preparing to collaborate with the agency (1). The four-day event, kicking off tomorrow (29 May) in Lisbon, has been christened ‘Reitox week’ and is the first of its kind (2).
Reitox — the European information network on drugs and drug addiction — was set up at the same time as the EMCDDA in 1993 and is now composed of 30 national monitoring centres or national focal points (NFPs) in the 27 EU Member States, Croatia, Turkey and Norway, as well as a focal point at the European Commission. The NFPs — from which the agency draws the bulk of its data — collect and analyse national information on drugs, drug policies and solutions, drawing on various sectors including health, justice and law enforcement. The agency describes the network as the ‘backbone of its work’.
In preparation for EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007, the EMCDDA began cooperating with countries outside the EU in 1999, working with EU candidate countries on technical projects to develop national focal points and drug information systems. It began collaborating with Norway in 2001, and in 2003 extended this work to EU candidate and potential candidate countries in the Western Balkans (3). This broader perspective was enshrined in a revised EMCDDA founding regulation, enforced in 2007, which formalised the agency’s transfer of know-how to countries beyond EU borders (4).
Reitox week will bring together 45 countries including: the current 30 members of the network, Russia, Kazakhstan and a number of beneficiaries of the European Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) (5) and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) (6). Through the IPA programme, would-be EU members receive funding and support to prepare for accession. In January this year, the EMCDDA launched its IPA 4 programme (2012–14) to support IPA beneficiaries in preparing to participate in its work (7). The ENP forge closer ties with countries to the South and East of the EU, to strengthen prosperity, stability and security.
‘This first Reitox week represents an important step forward in our technical cooperation with countries outside the EU,’ says Wolfgang Götz. ‘By bringing all partners around the table for the first time, the event heralds a new era for our Reitox network and will provide added impetus to our cooperation projects’.
‘Once countries join the EU, they are automatically required to participate in the work of the EU agencies’, Götz explains. ‘This is why aspiring EU members are encouraged to play an active role in the work of the agencies before entering the Union to ensure that, on accession, they are fully operational in the specific field’.
The agency highlights the added value gained by countries from cooperation of this kind, such as strengthening their national information systems and gaining access to tools and expertise to implement their own national strategies and responses to the drugs problem. Important players in this cooperation are ‘Reitox coaches’, representatives from the more established national focal points assigned to assist newcomers to the network in running national activities according to EU norms. This Reitox coaching model is a valuable means of building partnerships and exchanging expertise between countries within and beyond the EU.
The Reitox week will be structured around two sessions: