The European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) has voted on Monday (10 March) in favour of an EU proposal to reduce alcohol consumption by minors.
In the resolution, the Parliament calls on the European Commission to present a plan, with concrete measures by September this year.
Europeans are the heaviest drinkers in the world, with more than one-fifth of the population aged 15 and above reporting heavy episodic drinking at least once a week. Heavy drinking is defined as having five or more beverages on a single occasion.
Abuse of alcohol can have severe consequences for individuals and society as a whole, said Romana Jordan, a Slovenian MEP from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), who co-authored the resolution.
"Alcohol abuse has a number of societal impacts, from health to employment and social policies. I am happy that the Environment Committee has sent a clear signal to the European Commission for a more determined, efficient, and up-to-date action," she said.
Lawmakers said the Commission should begin work on the new EU Alcohol Strategy for the period 2016-2022 and present an action plan with concrete measures.
Meanwhile, member states are urged to better implement current restrictions on alcohol advertising. Measures to restrict alcohol sales to those under the legal age for purchase must be strengthened, as well as actions to properly regulate cross-border sales of alcohol on the Internet.
Efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of binge drinking for minors, in order to reduce traffic accidents related to alcohol consumption, should be increased, with reinforcement of the information and data collection on alcohol abuse and related societal consequences, MEPs said.
A toast to 'common sense"
However, the Parliament committee rejected calls for a minimum price on alcohol, a measure which has been introduced in Scotland to reduce alcohol consumption.
British MEP Marina Yannakoudakis, of the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group, explained that minimum pricing would damage a competitive drinks industry and impact jobs.
"It is clear that while we can associate an increase in cost with a reduction in consumption, there is no evidence to suggest that minimum unit pricing would make the consumption of alcohol safer. If people are determined to drink, we risk encouraging a prohibition-style situation where people look to dubious but cheaper production sources," Yannakoudakis said.
"As a result of minimum unit pricing, profits would shift from the drinks industry and onto either big supermarkets or illegal producers,” she argued.
The Parliament committee resolution also calls on the EU to give greater support to member states, calling on the Commission to back national health campaigns.
Better counseling programmes, improved access to treatment, earlier diagnoses of alcohol-related problems and continuous support for families should also help combat alcohol harm, the resolution says.
But MEPs also stressed that member states should keep flexibility over the issue, rejecting a 'one size fits all' approach.
“The Parliament’s Resolution on the EU Alcohol Strategy rightly highlights the need to tackle alcohol misuse, including underage and binge drinking, as well as drink-driving and drinking during pregnancy,” said Pierre Olivier Bergeron, secretary general of The Brewers of Europe, representing beer manufacturere. “If we are to ensure safe and sensible drinking in Europe, interactive dialogue, strong partnerships, and above all definitive, targeted and collective action are vital.”
Gabor Garamszegi, corporate affairs director at SABMiller Europe, a brewer, urged parliamentarians not to adopt a heavy-handed approach.
"Tackling irresponsible drinking requires a long-term partnership approach between all relevant stakeholders. The existing Alcohol Strategy has provided the right framework for cooperative action through the targeted commitments, submitted by us and other economic operators, to the EU’s Alcohol and Health Forum. This process is yielding tangible results. EU policy should maintain this successful multi-stakeholder approach to promote evidence-based interventions that are tailored to local cultures and circumstances."
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 was launched in 2006. After a detailed evaluation in 2013, with the policy objective of reducing the health and social harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption, the alcohol strategy is expected to be updated in 2014.
- Sept.: Commission to publish an update of its Alcohol Strategy.
- DG Health & Consumers: First progress report on the implementation of the EU alcohol strategy (Sept. 2009)
- DG Health & Consumers: Alcohol
- DG Health & Consumers: EU alcohol and health forum
- DG Health & Consumers: Summary report: Commitments made by members of the European Alcohol and Health Forum (30 April 2009)
- Health-EU portal: Alcohol
- Awareness Week on alcohol-related harm: Talking alcohol-related harm, I'm in!