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Scandals around politicians accepting lavish hospitality from the alcohol industry should not happen. They should decline not simply declare such invitations.
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, who is leading attempts to deal with Qatargate, and her husband are reported by Politico to have accepted a €350 hotel room and five-course dinner in a mediaeval castle from an elite wine society.
She is also reported to have been bestowed with the rare honour of becoming a "dame" of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin wine-drinking brotherhood. The European Parliament is said to have covered the pair’s travel and security costs.
This is simply a colourful example of the way the alcohol industry operates across Europe, leveraging its ability to offer indulgence-on-the-house to representatives using its ties to sport, tourism, hospitality and entertainment.
The alcohol industry invites policymakers to partake in enjoyable events for one reason alone and that is to influence key players in the policy-making process so skewing the outcome in the industry’s favour. It looks like a tacit endorsement.
“If MEPs wish to be free from all suspicion of allowing undue alcohol industry influence they should not only declare hospitality they receive from the alcohol industry, but decline it,” says Eurocare Secretary General Florence Berteletti.
“The alcohol industry's participation in policy formation through lobbying has been identified by WHO as the major barrier to preventing harm from alcohol in Europe and this incident as an example of how that industry influence happens in practice,” says Eurocare President Peter Rice.
The alcohol lobby, representing a health harming industry, should have no part to play in public health policy and politicians’ choices should reflect that. Rules should be drawn up, just as they have for tobacco.
The incident takes place alongside the ongoing implementation of the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan, only approved by the European Parliament after a debate in which many MEPs spoke as if representing the alcohol industry. Alcohol causes a million deaths a year in Europe, with two people dying every minute. Many more are the victims of its non-lethal harms. Vested interests should not be allowed to deflect evidence-based policies which address this problem.
Politicians who truly recognise their responsibility to safeguard Europe’s citizens would not tacitly endorse alcohol industry views or allow the industry influence through flattery and favours, or even appear to.
But transparency is a crucial step towards a level playing field. So Eurocare warmly welcomes the example set by the European Parliament President on this. And we invite her to join us to discuss alcohol harm in Europe.