Fighting alcohol harm: The EU's strategy under review


Europeans have the highest per-capita consumption of alcohol, and drinking causes nearly 1-in-10 cases of ill health and premature death. The European Commission’s informal alcohol strategy, launched in 2006, is set for a detailed evaluation in 2013, with the policy objective of reducing the health and social harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

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An average adult (aged 15+ years) in the EU consumes 12.5 litres of pure alcohol or nearly three drinks a day, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated in its 2012 report Alcohol in the European Union - Consumption, harm and policy approaches.

This is more than double the world average.

Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption is the third largest risk factor for ill health in the EU, responsible for 195,000 deaths each year and accounting for 12% of male and 2% of female premature mortality, according to the EU's first progress report on the Implementation of the EU Alcohol Strategy, published in 2009.

The estimated economic cost to the EU is around €125 billion, the report says.

EU data indicates that alcohol consumption has remained broadly stable for most member states between 2002 and 2006, for example in Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy and Spain.

However, there was a steep increase in eight countries, led by Estonia (+40%), Latvia (+33%) and Poland (+25%). In contrast, the level of recorded alcohol consumption dropped by some 9% in Luxembourg and Malta during that period, the report notes.

The EU's 2006 alcohol strategy

The EU’s Alcohol Strategy, launched in 2006, is designed to help national governments and other stakeholders coordinate their action to reduce alcohol related harm in the EU.

However, the strategy does not impose concrete legislation on member states at this stage, relying instead on policy coordination and exchanges of best practices between countries. To do this, the strategy introduced an alcohol and health forum, launched in 2007, where member organisations - public and private - are invited to debate, compare approaches and take action to tackle alcohol related harm (>> Read the Commission's summary report on commitments made by the forum).

Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption has a major impact on public health and also generates costs related to health care, health insurance, law enforcement and public order, and workplaces.

Harmful alcohol consumption also has a negative impact on labour and productivity. Therefore, the EU wants to foster workplace-based initiatives. Stakeholders such as business organisations and trade unions have a particular responsibility in this regard.

Five priorities

The Commission strategy identifies the following five priority themes, which it considers relevant in all member states:

  • Protect young people, children and the unborn child;
  • Reduce injuries and death from alcohol-related road accidents;
  • Prevent alcohol-related harm among adults and reduce the negative impact on the workplace;
  • Inform, educate and raise awareness on the impact of harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption, and on appropriate consumption patterns;
  • Develop and maintain a common evidence base at EU level.

These priorities are reflected in three working groups established under the EU alcohol and health forum on the following topics: youth-related aspects, marketing and science.

Most member states now have a written alcohol policy in place. There is a continuous trend towards an age limit of 18 years for selling and serving alcohol, and towards lowered Blood Alcohol Concentration limits for drivers of motorised vehicles. 

Strategy update

The strategy is now up for review, and will draw on early conclusions from the first progress report, published in September 2009.

In the updated strategy, the European Commission is expected to avoid any direct discussion over tax or pricing, which will remain a national prerogative.

However, the EU Executive will come under pressure to give clear guidance on how member states can impose pricing measures, especially since they are likely to be challenged under EU competition law.



ARVERS Philippe, MD, PhD's picture

One issue to be taken into account: energy drinks mixed with alcohol.


Progressive Masculinist Party's picture

They drink and they fornicate - because they don't have any future. The dark age is setting in.

Brian's picture

I think the alcohol issue is not a market issue but a social issue: IMO, adverts and pricing don't play a large role. How is drinking a form of entertainment and socialization?

What is the effect of energy drinks mixed with alcohol, Philippe?

ARVERS Philippe, MD, PhD's picture

Available research also suggests that the combined use of energy drinks and alcohol
increases risk of harms over and above that expected from alcohol use and energy drink
consumption alone. This effect occurslikely through decreased perceptions of intoxication
and increased alcohol consumption. Given that alcohol is already a leading cause of
preventable death and disability among youth and young adults, a comprehensive and
proactive suite of initiatives to discourage the co-administration of energy drinks and alcohol
is urgently required to minimize health and safety harms. Following the success of
campaigns such as those directed at drinking and driving and tobacco use, to be most
effective, these efforts should be based around an overlapping and reinforcing mix of policy,
regulatory and educational initiatives based on high-quality researchand monitoring.
In: Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages in Canada:
Prevalence of Use, Risks and Recommended Policy Responses. K. Brache, G. Thomas & T. Stockwell, CCSA, University of Victoria, Brit. Columbia

In 2011, I conducted a survey in France (Grenoble Management School):

Tom's picture

"An average adult (aged 15+ years) in the EU consumes 12.5 litres of pure alcohol or nearly three drinks a day, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated in its 2012 report Alcohol in the European Union - Consumption, harm and policy approaches."

Is 12.5 litres of pure alcohol correct?? That seems a little steep for average per diem consumption - and certainly I am not used to fitting that much into just under 3 drinks...

rebecca olesen's picture

@Progressive Masculinist Party yes, the dark age is setting in, it's called insane levels of mass immigration into the EU from 'dark countries'. You'd drink too, if you saw your world destroyed before your eyes within a few short years - paid for with your tax money (highest paid in the world) and complaining about it is reason for the fascist govts to arrest you.

@Jessica - drinking milk and taking vitamins? 15 is the 'age of consent' in Sweden. I'm not particularly in favour of it, but as long as you aren't a teacher or something, it isn't against the law for a 35 year old man to have sex with a 15 year old girl. can't tell them to 'drink milk' and be a kid if you are one of those interested in keeping the law allowing you to have sexual intercourse with them.

The legal age for drinking in Sweden is 'NONE, in private "in moderation" (how would they enforce that) and 18 for bars.
One of the reasons drunk driving is the lowest in Sweden is that, really, most people don't have cars. Sweden is a bicycle-scooter country. Cities all have separate paths and parking garages at malls, apartment complexes, all for bikes.

Brian's picture

@rebecca olesen
I like the 2nd paragraph of your post. In Spain the age of consent is 13(!), though the present (conservative)government wants to raise it to 16. I guess there is more obvious proof that alcohol is harmful.

Henry's picture

The EU should not be worred, it is you who expects that each member wil have it own wines, and who are supposed to drink these wines, any one who wants a good time drinking. Youghts although under 15 years, they just buy wines and meet at places away from the public eye.

an european's picture

Alcohol is harmful!
We have already deadly streets accident caused by drink&drive !
besides wine or beer strong alcohol should be prohibited !!!!

But seems a governement profit ...

maja's picture

Many things are harmful for kids and youth, but...we didn't see clearly this generation...but they saw us.
And...we run for the money, for the policy without any clear many cases, kids and youth are GENERATIO INVISIBILE. This fact is only the result of our attitude towards them.

Best regards

bailadan's picture

Considering how dangerous alhohol is, how come it can be consumed legally, while other less dangerous recreational drugs are illegal?

Richard J D'Souza's picture

Raise the age limit on alcohol consumption will have a positive effect on some people.'s picture

Raise the age limit on alcohol consumption will have a positive effect on some people. Some people are too young to be drinking.