Health Ministers ask European Commission for a new EU Alcohol Strategy

By EASL EU Public Affairs December 11,2015

The current EU Alcohol Strategy was designed for period 2006-2012. Since 2011 European public health organisations have been calling on the European Commission (EC) to start working on the future EU Alcohol Strategy. The first call for action was issued in 2011 (EASL was a signatory to it) this was followed by a second call for action in November 2014 (EASL was also a signatory to this initiative)[1].

Earlier this year the European Parliament expressed its support, in April 2015 it adopted a Resolution on the EU Alcohol Strategy[2].

This month (7th December) the Health Ministers joined in, with their strong support for the EU Alcohol Strategy, they adopted Council Conclusions[3] on ‘An EU strategy on the reduction of alcohol-related harm’.

This Council Conclusions follow the call expressed already on 21st April at an informal meeting of health ministers. It was reiterated that an EU strategy can further support and complement national public health policies. The Council Conclusions asked the Member States and European Commission to: (i) Strengthen cooperation on identification of effective measures, focusing particularly on prevention of risky drinking behaviour (ii) continue to support the work on Committee on National Alcohol Policy and Action- CNAPA (iii) continue gathering information at EU level. Furthermore, it also asked the EC to consider the possibility of introduction of mandatory labelling of ingredients and nutrition declaration, in particular of the energy value of alcoholic beverages.

Moreover, the Council notes with concern that the European Union is the region with the highest alcohol consumption in the world[4]. Council also referred to the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report which stated that regular and heavy drinking is on the rise[5].

Council conclusions stressed that reducing the burden of alcohol-related harm, has become a common concern and that cooperation and coordination at EU level would be of added value. They went further to say that prevention of alcohol-related harm represents a necessary investment as it allows economic losses and healthcare expenditure to be limited in the long term.

Most importantly, Member States have asked the European Commission specifically to adopt by the end of 2016 a comprehensive EU strategy dedicated to the reduction of alcohol-related harm.

Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis responsible for Health and Food Safety agreed with the objectives and purposes of the conclusions to reduce alcohol-related harm, he also shared ministers’ concerns about the need to protect young people.

However when it comes to the tools utilised to address it, the Commissioner seemed non-committal and said that decision has not yet been taken. Looking at the continuous postponement of the decision it unfortunately appears that Commission will not immediately start work on the new EU Alcohol Strategy.

Commissioner Andriukaitis, said that he sees alcohol misuse as part of a bigger picture together with tobacco, healthy nutrition and lack of exercise, which generates avoidable diseases and premature deaths. That approach would confirm previous reports that the EC might address alcohol in Non Communicable Diseases (chronic diseases) strategy, which is expected to be unveiled in April 2016.

Some Member States representatives argued that a broad strategy for chronic diseases, which does not take into account the specific nature of combating alcohol-related harm, would not suffice. Similarly, public health community has been advocating for a case to have a specific alcohol strategy.

The Council Conclusions adopted this month reiterated the strong political commitment from the European Parliament and Health Ministers for a new EU Alcohol Strategy but it remains to be seen whether Juncker’s Commission will listen.

 

 

[1] Calls for Actions coordinated by the European Alcohol Policy Alliance www.eurocare.org

[2] European Parliament resolution of 29 April 2015 on Alcohol Strategy (2015/2543 (RSP))

[3] The Council of the EU negotiates and adopts documents such as conclusions, resolutions and statements, which do not intend to have legal effects. The Council uses these documents to express a political position on a topic related to the EU's areas of activity. These types of documents only set up political commitments or positions - they are not foreseen in the treaties. Therefore, they are not legally binding.

[4] Health at a Glance : Europe 2014 (joint publication of the OECD and the European Commission ), December 2014

[5] Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use -  Economics and Public Health Policy, May 2015