Health NGOs walk out of EU alcohol forum

Vytenis Andriukaitis [European Commission]

Twenty public health organisations have resigned from the European Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF), a stakeholder platform, to protest against the European Commission’s refusal to submit a new alcohol strategy.

In an open letter sent to Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, the NGOs express “deep concern” that the Commission has no intention of developing a comprehensive EU Alcohol Strategy.

As the EAHF was set up to develop strategies to fight alcohol abuse, the NGOs’ participation in the forum can no longer be justified, they write. The EAHF was created in 2007 “to provide a common platform for all interested stakeholders at EU level to step up actions relevant to reducing alcohol-related harm.”

>> Read: Commission set to dump EU alcohol strategy

The letter was signed by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), and Eurocare, a network of non-governmental organisations working on the prevention and reduction of alcohol abuse across Europe.

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.

As EURACTIV reported, Andriukaitis gave a speech on 18 May at an EAHF meeting, indicating that the Commission was not planning to publish a new Alcohol Strategy, but instead wanted alcohol-related harm treated under a wider strategy on 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.

This prompted Mariann Skar, Secretary General of Eurocare, to express her “great disappointment” that Andriukaitis “is not able to address calls from the Parliament and the member states for a strengthened policy framework to tackle alcohol-related harm.”

>> Read: Lawmakers urge Commission to table new alcohol strategy

Industry wants to continue

Paul Skehan, Director General of SpiritsEurope, which represents the spirits and liquour industries, said in a statement that he believes that the dialogue at the EAHF is worth continuing as it is based on “real action on the ground”.

“While we fully agree with the public health groups that alcohol-related harms must be addressed in a serious, comprehensive manner at EU and national levels, we do not share the NGOs’ opinion that the idea of reducing those harms as part of a wider plan addressing non-communicable is necessarily a bad thing,” Skehan said.

“Without any details yet published by Commissioner Andriukaitis, it seems very premature to already dismiss such a strategy. We have constantly called for a more holistic approach to addressing alcohol harm,” Skehan continued.

AB InBev, the largest brewer globally, said in a statement that tan independent evaluation of the EU Alcohol Strategy found that action and engagement of businesses, NGOs and other stakeholders in the EAHF has helped reduce alcohol-related harm.

“The pledge by the European brewing sector to provide ingredient and nutrition information about their beers is the latest example of voluntary action bridging regulatory gaps, and we need a renewed political foundation for the Forum to allow such efforts to continue and accelerate even further,” AB InBev told EURACTIV.

The Brewers of Europe, representing the beer sector in Europe, said it regrets the decision by the NGOs, saying that leaving the Forum hopefully is a ‘temporary solution’ and that the Commission will be able to convince the NGOs of the EU’s ongoing commitment to tackling alcohol misuse and reducing the harm that this causes.

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 to publish report on how to include alcoholic drinks under EU labelling rules for food and drinks.

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