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Alcohol and Health Forum: NGO Roundtable

The first Alcohol and Health Forum roundtable meeting, hosted by the European Commission, and chaired by Robert Madelin, Director General for Health and Consumer Protection took place on 7 March, with a number of NGOs present.

The meeting was one of three, each held with a key stakeholder: economic operators, NGOs and Member States. Participation in the meetings mainly involved informal discussions of the Forum process and a review of the draft charters and mandates; it was emphasised that presence in these did not commit any of the stakeholders to full participation and involvement in the Forum, to be launched in June.

Robert Madelin gave assurances that the Forum charter would be amended as a result of stakeholder input in these the preliminary meetings; he also invited a small number of representative from each group to attend an informal re-drafting session in Brussels on 12 April. Andrew Mc Neill, Director of the UK's Institute of Alcohol Studies, and Honorary Secretary of Eurocare attended this meeting.

The first draft of the Forum charter was been amended ahead of the redrafting meeting, and includes two substantial changes: the elimination of the board and the addition of a second working group on young people. None of these are surprising, given the issues raised in the meetings; removing the board will avoid the contentious matter of ‘equal representation', but also clarifies the independent remit of the Forum; the charter now specifies that ‘in organising the work of the forum, the Commission may consult participants as it sees fit, including by the establishment of a balanced group of participants to advise on issues of process”. The creation of a second action group on youth-specific aspects of alcohol is in line with the focus of the Commissions' Communication on Alcohol, and is welcomed as a key area for action, alongside commercial communications.

Eurocare welcomes the Forum's focus on action, rather than policy discussion, which should remain the remit of Member States. The innovation of the Forum is to create a new type of playing field and build on what the commission has learnt from other platforms, notably the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

However, strong concerns were voiced during the meeting with regard to the anticipated level of commitment on the part of stakeholders; whilst it is clear that there is a substantial discrepancy in resources- both financial and ‘human'- between economic operators and NGOs, it was feared that expectations towards NGOs were somewhat unrealistic and disproportionate to their means.

Reflecting upon the experience of the EU's ‘Diet' Platform, while the ‘visible' and ‘high profile' nature of commitments made by economic operators are foreseeable, the ongoing efforts, work and commitments of NGOs to reduce alcohol related harm risk being perceived as insufficient in comparison to such professionally marketed campaigns. In addition, the challenging process of ongoing monitoring and evaluation of commitments may also serve to weaken the efforts, position and credibility of participating NGOs. We hope that the Commission will bear these possible difficulties in mind.

Minutes from the meeting between DG SANCO and the NGOs

Draft Charter of the Alcohol and Health Forum (February 2007)

Amended draft Charter of the Alcohol and Health Forum (March 2007)

Members of the drafting Committee: