The EU’s 28 health ministers urged the European Commission on Monday (7 December) to adopt a comprehensive EU strategy to tackle alcohol-related harm such as binge drinking and drink-driving.
Member states want the strategy to follow-up on the first EU Alcohol Strategy (2006-2012), according to the conclusions of a meeting of ministers for Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) held in Brussels yesterday.
In the conclusions, the Council likewise endorses a European Parliament resolution which calls for a new strategy in 2016-2022.
The Council statement puts pressure on the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis. The Commission has been very much isolated in its view that the EU does not need a new strategy to tackle alcohol-related harm after the previous one expired in 2012.
Instead, Andriukaitis said alcohol misuse could be addressed among a wider range of risk factors in chronic diseases and declined to put a deadline for when this strategy will be published. Most public health NGOs in Brussels have condemned this approach since the Commissioner’s intentions were announced in May. They say alcohol harm is too big a problem for not having a separate strategy.
“I fully share the concerns of the Council about alcohol-related harm. Alcohol misuse is a very serious matter which has devastating consequences for the affected individuals, their families and for society,” Andriukaitis said in a statement.
“I am particularly concerned with preventing the harmful use of alcohol, and not just addressing its consequences; and I certainly share Health Ministers’ concern about the need to protect young people. I am committed to continue supporting member states in preventing and addressing alcohol misuse,” he added.
However, the executive also agrees with the Council conclusions that the principal responsibility to tackle alcohol-related problems lies in the member states, though the European Commission wants to support the efforts for example by providing useful data and fund projects.
According to the Commission, the financial burden of alcohol harm is huge, with estimates putting it at €150 billion per year in the EU. Each year 120,000 European citizens die due to alcohol misuse, which can be linked to 60 different diseases. But these figures are probably conservative as risk factors complicate treatments of other conditions.
The executive has indefinitely postponed the publication of a report on how to include alcoholic beverages under the EU’s new food labelling rules with information that includes nutrition and ingredients.
But the Council wants the European Commission to at least consider introducing mandatory labelling for alcoholic drinks. The Council is particularly interested in seeing information about the calorie intake on new labels.
Brewers have already committed to introduce these kinds of labels via self-regulation. The Brewers of Europe, the industry’s association at EU level, said in a statement that it is the European consumer’s wish and legitimate right to access comparable ingredients and nutrition values for all beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Launched in 2006, the EU’s Alcohol Strategy was designed to help national governments and other stakeholders coordinate their actions to reduce alcohol abuse.
However, the strategy did 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
- 13 December 2016: Mandatory rules for nutrition declaration, such as energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt will apply for food and non-alcoholic drinks in Europe.
Council of the EU
Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council: Outcome of the Council meeting (7 Dec. 2015)