Stakeholders take careful steps to revive EU Alcohol and Health Forum

The European Commission want to make EU Alcohol and Health Forum a credible platform. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Party smart: The battle against excessive drinking.

The European Commission is trying to foster dialogue among stakeholders and find the best way to take the EU Alcohol and Health Forum a step forward.

The EU Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF) is a Commission-led stakeholder platform with the aim of coordinating best practices and policies to tackle alcohol-related harm.

However, in June 2015, twenty public health NGOs pulled out.

The NGOs, most of which receive EU funding, decided to abstain from the platform in protest against the European Commission’s refusal to submit a new alcohol strategy, which formally expired in 2012.

The alcohol industry makes it clear that the Forum is related to prevention actions and not policy; on the other hand, the NGOs insist that the industry should be prevented from influencing health-related messages.

Commission: an ongoing dialogue

Contacted by EURACTIV.com, a European Commission Spokesperson explained that in the last two years, the Commission had been in dialogue with both the current members of the Forum and the NGOs that left the Forum in 2015.

The aim of this ongoing dialogue, the EU official said, was to revive the Forum based on a renewed working methodology.

“This is considered necessary by the Commission to improve the quality, ambition and public health impact of the Forum commitments and thereby to strengthen the credibility of the Forum.”

“In the meantime, ambitious and high-quality voluntary initiatives illustrate the commitment of the relevant actors to contribute to the reduction of alcohol-related harm,” the official emphasised.

It’s about prevention, not policy

The alcohol industry has taken several initiatives to reduce alcohol-related harm as part of the EAHF commitments.

‘Responsible Party’ has some impact on students’ drinking habits, report finds

‘Responsible Party’, an awareness-raising campaign against the excessive use of alcohol, has helped students consume less alcohol and improve their habits by drinking water too, a study has found.

“Responsible Party” is one of these alcohol prevention programmes. It’s a Pernod Ricard commitment as a member of the EAHF implemented by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) [See background].

Although the Commission pointed out that public health NGOs should also be involved in such projects, it also praised the fact that the campaign was unbranded and the evaluation was conducted by an independent party.

The spirits industry (spiritsEUROPE) believes that building on actions that are proven to work in real life settings should be the basis of the best practice exchange at EU level.

“An initiative like the Responsible Party programme not only increases but actually makes the value of multi-stakeholder platforms like the Forum […] and when proven successful, they should be endorsed, replicated and/or extended,” Laure Alexandre from spiritsEUROPE said.

Alexandre told EURACTIV that the coordination of member states actions (CNAPA) came subsequently and the industry has consistently called for more dialogue between the CNAPA and the Forum.

According to spiritsEUROPE, the Forum was created as a platform for actions, not policy.

“We should note that, by design, the public health lobby groups active on alcohol at EU level (some funded by religious/temperance groups) want policy. They do not care for prevention programmes and actions on the ground. The NGOs who left the Forum did not resign because the Forum wasn’t delivering. They left because it did exactly what it was set out to do – actions, not policy,” Alexandre emphasised.

“We invite those who value results over dogma to join the Forum, and support by their action the initiatives that make a positive difference to the drinking culture in Europe,” spiritsEUROPE added.

But it seems the industry and public health NGOs do not view the Forum in the same way.

Different roles

The European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) told EURACTIV that its position remained consistent with the WHO Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol (2010) and that economic operators should have no role in affecting health and social policy.

“We will strongly oppose any moves to engage them in these areas or in influencing health-related messages,” Eurocare’s secretary-general Mariann Skar said, adding that she shares the Commission’s determination to find a common way forward.

“We welcome the Commissioner’s proposals for new practical arrangements and measures to ensure that the health agenda is prioritised and that conflicts of interest are avoided,” she noted.

Skar also explained that Eurocare sent a letter last June to EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

“We agreed to re-engage based on the Commissioner’s email statement that public health authorities, NGOs and industry have different objectives and scope for action, but that all have a role to play in reducing alcohol-related harm.”

Positions

Jan de Grave, director of communications at Brewers of Europe, commented, “We look forward to the European Commission relaunching the multi-stakeholder EU Alcohol and Health Forum as soon as possible so as not to lose the momentum and progress made to date.”

“Alcohol misuse and its related harm remain important issues in Europe and we need to ensure efforts are regularly reviewed and built upon. Our wish is for the EU to continue its strategy of tackling alcohol-related harm by promoting responsibility and moderation, targeting alcohol misuse and focusing on those most vulnerable,” he added.

Background

Responsible Party (RP) is a Pernod Ricard commitment as a member of the European Commission’s Alcohol and Health Forum, which brings together a variety of stakeholders in an effort to reduce alcohol-related harm.

It is the first EU-wide alcohol prevention programme implemented by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) with the aim of promoting “Responsible Drinking”.

Volunteers are informing students about the harmful effects of alcohol overconsumption at parties as well as distributing water for free. The ESN is a network of around 550 member associations covering around 1,000 local campuses in 40 different countries.

A recently published evaluation report found “slight decrease of alcohol consumption” during the RP events as well as a modification of alcohol-related behaviours as, for instance, students drank more water.

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