Europeans are the heaviest drinkers in the world and in some EU member states, such as Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, the alcohol consumption is 2.5 times more than what an average person in the world drinks. The Commission's new strategy on alcohol, to be published later this year, has to better address the issue of alcohol-related harm, MEPs say.
Irish MEP Nessa Childers (Socialists and Democrats) said she's personally very interested in the idea of putting pressure onto actually reviewing the alcohol strategy.
"We don’t have enough commitment yet, so we need the strategy to be reviewed and we all need to take responsibility for doing that," Childers said Wednesday (15 May) at a Parliament event as part of Awareness Week on Alcohol-Related Harm (AWARH).
The EU's strategy on alcohol is up for a review this year. Though the Commission is expected to avoid any direct discussion over tax or pricing, the EU's executive is now coming under pressure to give clear guidance on how to tackle problems such as binge drinking among young people.
Bulgarian MEP Antonia Parvanova (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) said Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy Tonio Borg is committed to deliver on EU policies against alcohol problems, but the commissioner needs support.
"So our aim should be to have a strong public support and different stakeholders, not just from the awareness campaigns, but also political and public support, so that the Commission, and the Parliament as well, will be successful with a new strategy on alcohol," Parvanova said.
The MEP added that she thinks there is a major problem with the alcohol industry because in the past it has made attempts to block tougher policies.
Parvanova said that in the preparations and debates leading up to the food labelling directive, MEPs wanted a small amendment revealing the sugar content and energy in alcoholic drinks.
However, they failed due to objections from the industry. The MEPs also failed when they wanted finance for prevention of alcohol abuse added to the EU's Health for Growth programme, according to Parvarnova.
Alcohol problems 'unacceptable'
Guilio Gallo from the Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumers addressed the strategy by saying that MEPs, through the recent debates on the consequences of alcohol harm, were influencing the Commission.
“The more you push, the better it is for us to take this forward," Gallo said.
Alcohol-related harm is the cause of more than 60 diseases, Gallo stressed, with cancer being one of these, but alcohol is also responsible for violence and road fatalities. Alcohol abuse is destroying lives and families, he said.
Gallo also mentioned that the alcohol situation between member states varies.
"Alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm are quite composite figures, but we see that for instance in the south of Europe, the consumption is going down, but in Central and Eastern Europe it’s increasing. So alcohol is a huge problem in the EU," the DG Sanco representative said.
However, there are some similar problems in the member states and one is underage drinking, Gallo stated.
"Figures indicate that 82% of underage children have easy access to alcohol. We see binge drinking among young people and this is unacceptable."