Commission set to dump EU alcohol strategy


EU adults consume 12.5 litres of pure alcohol per year, according to the World Health Organisation. [Kaktuslampan/Flickr]

Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU’s Health and Food Safety Commissioner, said that the executive has no intention of submitting a new strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm in Europe, suggesting that the issue will be tackled as part of a broad range of “risk factors” affecting chronic diseases.

The EU’s latest strategy to tackle alcohol abuse expired in 2013, after seven years, and was not replaced by a new one.

While it did not impose specific legislation, the strategy provided guidance to EU member states in preventing harmful and hazardous drinking, by tackling areas such as drunk driving, alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and underage drinking.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Fighting alcohol harm: The EU’s strategy under review

On Monday (18th May), Andriukaitis gave a speech at the plenary meeting of the European Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF) in Brussels, where he presented the Commission’s work on reducing alcohol-related harm in Europe.

In the speech, he emphasised the need for a broad and holistic approach to reduce premature deaths related to alcohol misuse. But he made it clear that alcohol-related harm would not be treated in a seperate strategy as was previously done, but would instead be called a “risk factor” in a wider strategy to tackle chronic diseases.

“I would like to place action on the main causes of chronic diseases, including alcohol but also tobacco, nutrition and physical inactivity. It is less important for me what word we are using to define the paper setting out such a joint commitment. What matters is the results,” Andriukaitis said.

Mariann Skar, Secretary General of Eurocare, a network of non-governmental organisations that works on the prevention and reduction of alcohol abuse across Europe, said that it is both surprising and disappointing that the Commission was not responding to calls for a new strategy from the Parliament and the EU member states.

“We have now been waiting since 2012 to see any development on policies to tackle alcohol related harm in Europe. It has continuously been postponed, and now was the time to present new actions. However, it is a great disappointment that the Commissioner is not able to address the calls from the Parliament and the member states for a strengthened policy framework to tackle alcohol related harm,” she said.

No objection from the industry

But the alcohol industry, which has also long been pushing for a new strategy, remained calm over the prospect of the Commission not coming up with a new plan.

Malte Lohan, Global Corporate Affairs Director at AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, said businesses, NGOs and other stakeholders are already working together in the EAHF to help reduce alcohol abuse in Europe.

“Let’s not get hung up on words. Whether it is called an Alcohol Strategy or something else, the EU needs to renew the political foundation that underpins the EAHF so that we can build on and reinforce this important work,” Lohan stated.

>> Read: Parliament urges Commission to submit new alcohol strategy

SpiritsEurope, which represents the spirits and liquor producers in Europe, told EURACTIV it would have no objection for the Commission to address harmful use of alcohol as a “risk factor” within the broader framework of non-communicable diseases.

“We do not want to become distracted, or preoccupied, by the process or structure the Commission decides to follow: The only important consideration is whether or not the new mechanism will make a greater impact on alcohol-related harm,” SpiritsEurope said. “We will need to see the actual proposals in due course to be able to assess that. In any case, we will continue to develop and roll-out prevention campaigns; our level of engagement will remain unchanged.”

Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, Secretary General of The Brewers of Europe, commented:

“The EU’s Health Ministers, the Parliament and now the Commission all agree that the five priority areas as laid down in the 2006 EU Strategy remain the right ones. Europe’s brewers have supported this Strategy since its adoption and have contributed over one third of the 325 commitments to action made in the EAHF. The Brewers of Europe reiterates its support for this action-oriented, targeted approach to reducing alcohol-related harm. On one of the areas that seems to be gaining increasing focus from all three EU institutions - namely consumer information – it is only right to recall the recent announcement by The Brewers of Europe of a voluntary move from brewing companies across the EU to list ingredients and nutrition information for beer, going beyond the EU laws that currently exempt alcoholic beverages over 1.2% alcohol from the obligation to provide such information. This commitment from the beer sector also fits perfectly with the European Commission’s 'Better Regulation' strategy as announced by Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans this week, and we encourage other alcoholic drinks sectors to follow the brewers’ lead.”

Launched in 2006, the EU’s Alcohol Strategy is designed to help national governments and other stakeholders coordinate their actions to reduce alcohol abuse.

However, the strategy does not impose specific 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.

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

Harmful alcohol consumption also has a negative impact on labour and productivity, something the EU wants to address by promoting workplace-based initiatives.

Stakeholders such as business organisations and trade unions have a particular responsibility in this regard, the Commission believes.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Fighting alcohol harm: The EU's strategy under review

  • End 2015: Commission expected to publish report with recommendations on how to include alcoholic drinks into the EU's rules on food labelling.

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