MEPs push for alcohol strategy on the EU’s health agenda


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

The members of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) on Thursday (29 January) voted on a draft motion for a resolution on the EU’s alcohol strategy.

The EU has tried to reduce alcohol-related harm in Europe by publishing a strategy in 2006 to help national governments, and other stakeholders, to coordinate their action.

However, the alcohol strategy was not updated by the European Commission in 2013, as originally intended.

The Juncker Commission, which took office on 1 November 2014, has so far not indicated that a new strategy is being considered. But leading MEPs from the ENVI Committee, such as the Socialists & Democrats’s (S&D) Glenis Willmott, say that the Commission has not given a satisfactory reason for why the review of the alcohol strategy wasn’t published last year as promised. 

Industry association Brewers of Europe said in a statement it was backing the current alcohol strategy to support member states in reducing alcohol-related harm.

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The external evaluation of the current EU strategy was extremely positive, concluding that the priorities and approach remained relevant, whilst also proposing a strengthening of the existing mechanisms. The Brewers of Europe supports this call for a reinvigoration of the current strategy rather than a totally new approach.

“The current EU Strategy focuses on alcohol misuse, addressing the problems caused by harmful drinking patterns and targeting the vulnerable minority who either drink to excess or should not drink at all. Moderate beer consumption by healthy adults can be fully compatible with a balanced lifestyle, highlighting the importance of promoting responsible drinking behaviours,” they said in a statement. 

>> Read: MEP Willmott: Commission is dragging its feet on alcohol policy

“The Brewers of Europe has supported this Strategy throughout, not just through words but also through actions, having filed one third of the 300 commitments to action made in the EU Alcohol and Health Forum,” they continued.

The beer sector also reaffirmed its commitment in 2012 with the adoption of a European Beer Pledge that focuses on consumer information, marketing self-regulation and campaigns against alcohol misuse.

Though a new report suggests that alcohol consumption has decreased significantly over the past decades, an average adult (aged 15+ years) in the EU consumes 12.5 litres of pure alcohol each year, or nearly three drinks a day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated in a 2012-report. This is more than double the world average. 

spiritsEUROPE, which represents producers of spirits drinks at the EU, said in a statement:  

"We supported the adoption of the existing European Strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm adopted in 2006. Since then, associations and company members of spiritsEUROPE have implemented more than 300 campaigns aimed at reducing drink-driving, underage drinking,  drinking during pregnancy, drinking at work place, server training, excessive drinking leading to chronic diseases and accidents etc. The vast majority of these, in partnership with local stakeholders. We look forward to the debate for a renewed strategy. We hope that debate will highlight the importance of a harm reduction approach focusing on risky drinking behaviours as set in the first strategy that is delivering positive results. Changing consumer behaviour needs time and the involvement of all stakeholders in society."

Launched in 2006, the EU’s alcohol strategy is designed to help national governments and other stakeholders coordinate their action to reduce alcohol-related harm in the EU.

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. Therefore, the EU wants to foster workplace-based initiatives. Stakeholders such as business organisations and trade unions have a particular responsibility in this regard.

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

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