EU’s alcohol strategy needs further push, MEPs say

Alcohol bottle.jpeg

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."

Positions

Health campaigners, including Lundbeck, European Liver Patients Association (ELPA) and Eurocare, said in a statement:

"We support the renewal of the EU alcohol strategy and believe that it should encompass an integrated approach to addressing alcohol related harm for Europe, which would entail provisions to encourage the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and support the individuals and families suffering from the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

Although National Alcohol Strategies and the EU Alcohol Strategy have made progress in addressing alcohol related harm, the problem of excessive alcohol consumption and the negative effect it has on those suffering from AUDs, on their families and to society as a whole, remains an overwhelming public health challenge that should be tackled through targeted, evidence-based policy measures."

On Friday (17 May), The Brewers of Europe met with the EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg to discuss the sector’s landmark three-year ‘Sober Mobility Across Road Transport’ (SMART) partnership with a road safety NGO.

Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, secretary general of The Brewers, said:

“For some stakeholders, the brewing sector’s continued efforts and unwavering commitment to the EU’s strategy and the European Alcohol and Health Forum will never be enough. Hopefully, the pioneering steps we are taking will lead to all stakeholders fully embracing the partnership approach.”

The European representative body for producers of spirit drinks, SpiritsEurope, commented on EURACTIV's story:

"Based on the results of the evaluation of the EU strategy, SpritisEurope shares the view of the Commission  that all the priority themes of the EU strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm are still relevant as well as the instruments used for the implementation, including the European Alcohol & Health Forum.

"It is important to bring together all the relevant stakeholders because reducing alcohol-related harm can only be achieved by changing the behaviour of those abusing or misusing our products. This takes time and requires the combined effort of everybody from public authorities, NGOs, health professionals, scientific community, local players, parents, teachers, producers distributors, etc.

"DG Sanco stressed the importance for all stakeholders to introduce ambitious and meaningful commitments with outcomes and impact indicators to the EAHF and we agree…

SpiritsEurope  remains fully committed to harm reduction through targeted approach and the work carried out across Europe can be monitored not only on the database of the EAHF but also at  www.drinksinitiatives.eu."

Romanian MEP Elena Oana Antonescu from the European People's Party stated:

"Although alcohol is high on the EU as well as many national policy agendas, it is often under prioritised in health policy due to difficulties in defining and addressing the problem.

"Indeed, the debate on alcohol has thus far neglected to address the issue of alcohol dependence in all its facets, instead focused only on the most extreme and visible cases of excessive drinking. If alcohol and alcohol-related harm is to be truly addressed, all types of alcohol dependence must be included in the debate and the holistic approach involving all existing measures be fully accounted for in policy strategies on alcohol."

Background

Europeans have the highest per-capita consumption of alcohol, and drinking causes nearly 1-in-10 cases of ill health and premature death.

The European Commission’s informal alcohol strategy, launched in 2006, is set for a detailed evaluation in 2013, with the policy objective of reducing the health and social harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

Timeline

2013: The EU's strategy on alcohol to be reviewed by the Commission.

Further Reading

European Commission

Organisations

Press articles