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30/11/2006

EU Alcohol Strategy

On 30 November, the Council of the EU adopted its conclusions on the EU strategy to support Member States in combating alcohol-related harm that the European Commission released on October 24th this year.

Eagerly awaited by the public health community, the strategy has been the victim of what some have described as one of the most intensive lobbying campaigns by some elements of the alcohol industry, to put their own profits above the health and well-being of the European citizens.

The considerably watered-down version of the draft that came out of DG SANCO at the end of September, has understandably been greeted by the public health advocates with something other than enthusiasm.

As Dr Michel Craplet, chairman of Eurocare, put it, “the European Commission has correctly diagnosed the alcoholic disease ravaging Europe and announced its determination to keep the patient under close observation from now on, but, perversely, insists that no treatment is called for at this time”.

Right from the introduction, the Commission announces it will not put forward any legislative measures. The justification it offers is the existence of “different cultural habits related to alcohol consumption”, even though evidence shows a progressive harmonization at the European level in the recorded consumption, beverage preferences and the increasing trend towads binge-drinking among young people.

The Commission identifies 5 priority themes;

  • Protect young people, children and the unborn child;
  • Reduce injuries and death from alcohol-related road accidents;
  • Prevent alcohol-related harm among adults and reduce the negative impact on workplace;
  • Inform, educate and raise awareness on the impact of harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption, and on appropriate consumption patterns;
  • Develop and maintain a common evidence base at EU level.

For each of these themes and the laudable sets of aims, the Commission presents a list of ‘good practices' that have been implemented already in some Member States, such as enforcing restrictions on marketing to young people. However, it does not actually propose doing most of these, but it leaves it up to the Member States to take that decision, as it has decided that most of these actions are best done by the EU Member States and regions themselves.

Despite its flaws, this is the first-ever European Union Alcohol Strategy and there are some good reasons for working with it. First of all, the fact that there is an alcohol strategy at all is a victory in terms of public health, and it secures alcohol a place in the EU agenda. Secondly, there will be new opportunities for projects and research on alcohol in the EU, which will be an invaluable boost to an often under-funded area and finally, the strategy opens up the possibility of further action on the European level.

More information:

Communication from the Commission on an EU strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol related harm

http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_determinants/life_style/alcohol/documents/alcohol_com_625_en.pdf

Council Conclusions on EU strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/en/lsa/91933.pdf

Eurocare Press releases:

http://www.eurocare.org/pdf/press/press251006.pdf

http://www.eurocare.org/news/eurocare_press061006.html

Letter to Mr Barroso:

http://www.eurocare.org/news/eurocare_barros191006.html