Commission says alcohol policies will not suffer from new internal structure

beer_glasses.jpg [Dave Shea/Flickr]

Alcohol policies and the ‘health in all policies’ approach will not suffer from the European Commission’s new internal structure – which has already seen many health policies delayed or scrapped, a spokesperson said on Tuesday (17 November). 

The way the Commission is structured today, which is more horizontal, will improve the way the executive takes decisions within health, according to Martin Seychell, the deputy director general at the Commission’s DG SANTE.

Seychell, who was debating alcohol-related harm in the Parliament, said that like any other public administration, the Commission has “certainly suffered” from the effects of so-called ‘silos’, or departmental thinking, over recent years. 

As the “problems of our time” are not going to be solved by working in silos, according to Seychell, he was optimistic that a new structure with more Commissioners involved in the decision-making will be a success. 

“Of course this is a political choice, but I’m convinced that it offers a lot of possibilities for health in all policies,” he said.

During its first year in office, the Juncker Commission was criticised by health NGOs, industries and MEPs for delaying action or scrapping policies, particularly related to alcohol, with many accusing the structure and the new ‘Better regulation’ approach for it. 

As EURACTIV revealed last week, the Commission has yet again delayed the publication of a report on how to include alcoholic drinks under existing EU labelling rules on nutrition and ingredients.

To the dismay of many health campaigners, the European Commission also announced its intentions to publish an alcohol strategy as part of a wider strategy to combat chronic diseases, instead of focusing on alcohol as a risk factor in itself.

“When we first floated this idea, I know that there was some concern expressed that we would just focus on chronic diseases in a reactive way, dealing with chronic diseases within health systems. That is not our intention,” Seychell said. 

“Of course, we need to look at better ways to treat people who are suffering from chronic diseases, but we also need to prevent what can be prevented in order to make our health systems sustainable,” he said – though declining to give a timeline for when the Commission will publish the strategy.

Big on big things

Jytte Guteland, a Swedish MEP representing the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), said that the choice of the title of the event “Alcohol – Why is it a big thing?” was meant to refer to the Commission’s policy motto “Big on the big things” as many health campaigners do not believe that the EU’s executive believes that alcohol-related harm is an important issue.

The MEP said that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has failed to prioritise action, despite health being the fourth most important priority for EU citizens.

“The reason why we need to talk to the Commission about the situation is because the alcohol strategy has not been renewed and we don’t get the answers from the Commission that we expected. The Commission announced last week that they don’t even have a plan for when they will publish their report on alcohol labelling. This Parliament has agreed on a resolution which mentions the report. The resolution is an important message to the Commission,” Guteland said.

>> Read: Commission delays report on alcohol labelling – again

The 3rd Awareness Week on Alcohol-Related Harm (AWARH) is being held on 16-20 November 2015 in Brussels. The aim of AWARH is to increase awareness of the need to address alcohol-related harm in Europe, and highlight the need to address it through an integrated approach to alcohol policy. Within the AWARH, this event at the European Parliament aims at discussing and demonstrating the overwhelming burden of alcohol-related harm in Europe, propose possible solutions to the problem and be a catalyst for debate at European and national levels.

According to the European Commission, the financial burden of alcohol harm is huge, estimated to reach over €150 billion per year in the EU. Alcohol on its own can be linked to 60 different diseases and each year 120,000 European citizens die due to alcohol, but these figures are conservative as risk factors complicate treatments of other conditions so the true figure is almost certainly much higher.

  • 16-20 November: The 3rd Awareness Week on Alcohol-Related Harm (AWARH) in Brussels.

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