European foundations cooperating at the sharp end

Alliance magazine

‘The agenda for NEF projects is linked to the individual foundations’ own missions. The project themes have a common focus on controversial issues where it’s difficult for public institutions to move.’ This is how Raymond Georis, Managing Director of the Network of European Foundations (NEF), explains its mission.

It grew out of the European Foundation Centre, whose original purpose of providing a forum for sharing best practice, etc led naturally to the idea of developing projects on which foundations could work together. Accordingly, the Association for Innovative Cooperation in Europe was founded in 1996, changing its name to NEF in 2002. In this feature, Alliance looks at some of its most notable recent ventures.

Global Drug Policy: Building a new framework

None of NEF’s collaborations better illustrates Raymond Georis’ words than the one which began with the launch of the Drug Matching Grants Fund, in May 2000 (see Alliance, vol 6, no 3). So sensitive was the issue felt to be that it was the first NEF (then AICE) project for which the rule of unanimous member support was waived. Its intention was to advance the European drug policy debate by looking at policies in the US and Europe, and the position held by the UN, and proposing alternatives. The project’s most recent initiative, a Symposium on Global Drug Policy in Lisbon, in October 2003, brought together academics, policy advisers and civil society experts from across the world to discuss the existing international framework for drug policy, possible new approaches, and health care and harm reduction policies. The proceedings of the Symposium have now been collected in a book, Global Drug Policy: Building a new framework published by the Senlis Council, a forum established by NEF in 2002 to gather expertise and facilitate new initiatives in global drug policies.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told the Symposium in a video broadcast which opened proceedings that most policies to date have contributed to increases in illegal activities and that what was needed now was a clearly defined strategy for formulating a new policy. Raymond Kendall, Honorary Secretary-General of Interpol, echoed this in his closing speech: ‘People are not debating any more whether current drug policy works. They accept it clearly does not.’

Drug policy does not lack resources, expertise or commitment, he added, but the Symposium suggested that these have often been directed at the wrong end of the problem. It was generally agreed that there is increasing divergence between the existing international framework and its actual implementation. In particular, it is necessary to reconcile harm reduction approaches with the existing Conventions and the spirit of the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2008 goals, whose thrust is more strictly prohibitionist; to allow latitude in policy choices in producer countries; and to allow countries generally the scope to experiment with alternative regulatory mechanisms which take account of their particular situation.

For this, the initiative has to come from governments. Donor countries to the UN Office for Crime and Drugs (UNODC) could, for instance, make their contributions contingent on a shift away from the restrictive emphasis of the current international framework.

Kendall welcomed the civil society contribution to the debate, which he said should also include drug users and their families, whom he called ‘first victim stakeholders’ of the problem. He felt that the Lisbon deliberations had helped move the debate to a new level and challenged participants to translate the findings into policy initiatives. There will be an International Symposium on Global Drug Policy in Vienna next year, to which Lisbon participants have been invited. NEF is committed to continuing the Senlis Council until the 2008 Special Session of the UN General Assembly.

Meanwhile, said Kendall, the publication of Global Drug Policy sets a new reference point for drug policy. It will help policymakers develop new initiatives domestically and create some momentum for change internationally. The book has four sections on: the international framework; better public health policy; new approaches and tools for law enforcement agencies; and multiple challenges. It also brings together the upshot of the deliberations in a Conclusions section and a Summary of the Symposium Minutes.

For further information or to obtain a copy, visit

Science and Society

NEF is supporting the European Collaborative for Science, Industry and Technology Exhibitions (ECSITE) in an initiative to create a Science and Society strategy for science centres and museums.

The project, launched by a web debate earlier this year and a workshop at this year’s EFC Conference in Athens, grows out of a concern about the decline in public confidence in science and the scientific community. The public needs to be made conscious of fundamental scientific issues, said Raymond Georis, and science centres and museums provide an ideal forum for this. The initiative marks a new direction for NEF, explained NEF President Francis Charhon, since it began by supporting broadly educational-cultural and social issues.

In addition to the web debate and the Athens conference session, ECSITE has published a special edition of its newsletter outlining the background and purpose of ‘Science and Society’. Outcomes of the EFC Athens session will be published in a subsequent ECSITE newsletter and posted on the web for further discussion. In addition, ECSITE is a partner in the EuroScience Open Forum which will take place in Stockholm in August, an event which some of the foundations involved in the ECSITE/NEF collaboration will also support.

For more information, see or

Laboratory of European Cultural Cooperation

The Laboratory of European Cultural Cooperation (LAB), a four-year pilot project designed by the Netherlands-based European Cultural Foundation (ECF) in collaboration with a group of practitioners, journalists and cultural researchers, is about to be launched.

LAB will be financed and run by a public-private consortium, including foundations like the ECF, Compagnia di San Paolo (Italy) and Riksbanken Foundation (Sweden) and EU ministries of culture.

It aims to stimulate innovative forms of cultural cooperation, to promote debate, and to provide information and examples of best practice to artists, cultural initiatives, cultural networks and foundations, ministries of culture, and institutions like the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Its focus will be on cross-border cultural cooperation. Initially, it will operate chiefly through a web portal, but it will also promote research and, where appropriate, cooperative projects, such as the ‘Public European Space’ Project, which it is supporting in collaboration with the Federal Agency for Civic Education in Germany.

For more information, see

The Genomic Revolution: Reshaping Vaccine Development and Delivery

Is it possible to get scientists and policymakers together to discuss big issues?
Perspectives on the Future of Science and Technology (PFST) is a series of conferences which is trying to do just this, and to examine the long-term social impact of emerging science and technologies. The first in the series, ‘The Genomic Revolution: Reshaping Vaccine Development and Delivery’, took place in February this year in the UK. Jointly hosted by the BBVA Foundation of Spain and the UK’s Nuffield Trust, it attracted a US delegation which included State Department officials, and representatives from eight EU member states.

Its major focus was on vaccines for HIV/AIDS. Vaccines are key to checking the spread of AIDS, but participants suggested that new delivery systems will be needed, and the limited virology research capacity in the EU, US and Africa is a serious obstacle to their development. An even greater obstacle is at the political level, where the disease does not always receive the priority it merits. It is hoped that the conference will lead to closer transatlantic collaboration in the area of vaccine development. Future conferences in the PFST series will explore topics in the areas of Sustainable Development, Health, Competitiveness, and Global Security.

The Nuffield Trust also convened a meeting in Geneva in May on behalf of Europe in the World (EITW) to consider what health research will be needed if the Millennium Development Goals are to be achieved and what contributions European foundations might make.
For more information on PFST, contact PFST project director Curtis Stewart at
For more on Europe in the World, visit

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