Real Facts, and Beer

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Pavlos Photiades, President of The Brewers of Europe. [Brewers of Europe]

This article is part of our special report Hospitality sector: Re-connecting EU citizens after the pandemic.

Abraham Lincoln is often (mis-)quoted as saying “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”

Pavlos Photiades is the president of The Brewers of Europe.

The origins of “…and beer” are certainly much disputed. However, the sentiment the phrase carries may still find meaning in the modern world, in the midst of the current pandemic and all the turmoil it has provoked. We need confidence in the truth and we absolutely need beer, if we are to rise to meet the challenges of this crisis.

In terms of the “real facts” (about beer): before the lockdown closed almost every bar, café and restaurant in Europe, one third of all beers were served and enjoyed in hospitality, creating 1.7 million bar and restaurant jobs and adding €24 billion in value to the EU economy.

All that activity was rightly put on hold to mitigate the worst of the coronavirus spread, keeping customers and staff out of the social venues where they may have been at risk of catching the coronavirus. It meant of course that the people were not able to socialise and connect in person. This isolation was keenly felt throughout society as we all adapted, confined to our homes and unable to seek the company of most of our friends and family.

Now hospitality establishments are beginning to reopen across the continent, ready to welcome back consumers who wish to reconnect with each other over a drink. Yet people need to have the confidence that those places will not only be as dependable and convivial as they were before the shutdown, but that they will also be returning to safe and responsible environments.

Without that confidence, combined with the social distancing restrictions that remain in place in most countries, the people may not be back to their beer as quickly as they might have hoped. Despite being open, businesses are going to continue to struggle to overcome the inevitable decline in customer numbers and sales, compared to the buoyant sector we experienced last year. It means that the suppliers and employers in the rest of the beer and hospitality value chain will also suffer as a result.

It is strongly recommended that EU, national and local governments pursue the following options under existing EU legislation: VAT reductions in hospitality on the service of food and drinks – including beer; further grants and flexible loans; and adjustments in excise taxes to support the products and sectors most impacted by lockdown – for example, with the return of taxes paid on beer that ultimately went unsold.

These measures would go a long way to supporting not only the hospitality sector as a whole, but also the brewers, many of whom rely heavily, or even exclusively, on those places for their profits. Deprived of those sales, many of Europe’s 10,000 plus breweries, large and small, may never brew and sell beer again.

It is a fact that every job saved at a brewery means an additional 16 jobs saved in the wider economy.

So, if Europe is to avoid a deep crisis, it would be wise to listen to Abraham Lincoln (‘s misattributed insight), and ensure that those in the hospitality sector can get down to the business of reconnecting people – over a beer of course.

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