EPRSauthor By / February 25, 2014

The EU’s policy on alcohol

In the context of the rise of non-communicable diseases, alcohol-related harm is a major public health concern for the European…

© Jörn Steiner / Fotolia
The EU's policy on alcohol
© Jörn Steiner / Fotolia

In the context of the rise of non-communicable diseases, alcohol-related harm is a major public health concern for the European population. Europe has the highest proportion of drinkers in the world, the highest levels of alcohol consumption per capita and a high level of alcohol-related harm. Alcohol consumption is accountable for over 15% of all ill health and early deaths among men and about 4% among women. The consequences of harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption also include a considerable number of fatalities on EU roads and a broader social impact such as violence, hooliganism, crime, family problems and social exclusion. Future EU actions to combat alcohol-related harm are currently beeing debated and the European Parliament is working on a Resolution (2014/2505(RSP)). The Commission has recently decided not to update the EU alcohol strategy which expired in December 2012 and is working on a new action plan on alcohol that will address young people as a priority, particularly binge drinking and heavy drinking. In this Keysource you will find an overview of the Commission’s work, the positions of the European Parliament and other stakeholders regarding the new plan, as well as some useful reports and studies.

Overview of the EU’s policy on alcohol, from 2001 to 2014

Council recommendation (2001/458/EC) of 5 June 2001 on the drinking of alcohol by young people, in particular children and adolescents / Official Journal L 161 of 16.06.2001 This recommendation invited the Commission to follow-up, assess and monitor developments and the measures taken, and to report back on the need for further action. Conclusions of the Council of 5 June 2001 on a Community strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm / Official Journal C 175 of 20.06.2001 In these conclusions, the Council calls for the development of a comprehensive Community strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Conclusions of the Council of 2 June 2004 on alcohol and young people In these conclusions the Council reiterates those of 5 June 2001 on a Community strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm and invites the Commission to put forward proposals to this effect. An EU strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol related harm / European Commission, COM(2006) 625 final The strategy does not propose the development of harmonised legislation. It sums up five priority areas which are relevant in all member states and for which Community action in conjunction with national policies and the coordination of national actions has an added value: 1. Protect young people, children and the unborn child; 2. Reduce injuries and death from alcohol-related road traffic accidents; 3. Prevent alcohol-related harm among adults and reduce the negative impact on the workplace; 4. Inform, educate and raise awareness on the impact of harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption, and on appropriate consumption patters; 5. Develop, support and maintain a common evidence base.

As part of the implementation of the Alcohol Strategy the Commission has set up the following bodies:

Council conclusions of 1 December 2009 on alcohol and health (2009/C 302/07) The conclusions are designed to recall the commitment the member states and the Commission have made within the EU alcohol strategy adopted in 2006 and to invite them to increase their efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm. Member states and the Commission are for example encouraged to engage actors in the alcohol beverage chain to work proactively in enforcing regulatory measures so that their products are produced, distributed and marketed in a responsible manner. The protection of unborn children, children, adolescents and young people is one of the main concerns of the conclusions.

Assessment of the added value of the EU strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol-related harm (Final report) / COWI Consortium for DG Health and Consumers , December 2012, 252 pages. The evaluation provides valuable information, based on the findings from surveys and interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, on the achievements of the 2006 EU alcohol strategy and on the challenges it has faced. It outlines the considerable achievements and the facts that most Member States have updated and strengthened their alcohol strategies over the past six years, building on evidence-based measures and moving in the directions outlined in the EU strategy. The report also points out crucial points for improvements.

The 2006 EU Alcohol Strategy officially came to an end in December 2012 and the European Commission has announced that it will not be updating it. Despite this news, the Commission considers the current Alcohol Strategy as a valid framework for action. A new EU action plan to fight alcohol-related harm is under way to reinforce action on youth, binge drinking and heavy drinking. Members of the Committee of National Alcohol Policy and Action and of the European Alcohol and Health Forum have been invited to consider how they can contribute to support this focus. The European Commission is now in the consultation phase of the Action Plan for the period 2014-2017 (calendar)

The European Parliament’s positions

European Parliament resolution of 5 September 2007 on an European Union strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol-related harm (2007/2005(INI))

European Parliament resolution of 15 December 2010 on the impact of advertising on consumer behaviour (2010/2052(INI))

European Parliament resolution of 8 March 2011 on reducing health inequalities in the EU (2010/2089(INI))

Food information to consumers (2008/0028(COD)), EP Legislative Observatory Final act: Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 It was decided to exclude alcoholic beverages from a mandatory labelling on nutritional contents. “By 13 December 2014, the Commission shall produce a report concerning the application of Article 18 and Article 30(1) to the products referred to in this paragraph, and addressing whether alcoholic beverages should in future be covered, in particular, by the requirement to provide the information on the energy value, and the reasons justifying possible exemptions, taking into account the need to ensure coherence with other relevant Union policies. In this context, the Commission shall consider the need to propose a definition of “alcopops”. The Commission shall accompany that report by a legislative proposal, if appropriate, determining the rules for a list of ingredients or a mandatory nutrition declaration for those products.”

European Parliament resolution of 15 September 2011 on European Union position and commitment in advance to the UN high-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (2011/2802(RSP))

The reactions of NGOs and Health Alliances

Eurocare Response to Structure for EU Alcohol Action Plan / Eurocare (European Alcohol Policy Alliance), January 2014, 7 pages Eurocare shared the concerns of some Member States that the lack of a new EU Alcohol Strategy poses a real threat to maintain progress made to reduce alcohol related harm in Europe. The Action Plan identifies a number of population subgroups for their priority of actions, such as young people, pregnant women, drivers and “heavy drinkers”. Eurocare supports a whole population approach that will also benefit other important population groups such as older people, work force, people on low incomes and women of childbearing age. Eurocare believes that the EC should build on the knowledge of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) and highlights WHOs recommendation of actions in areas of price, marketing and availability. EU action plan ‘ignores’ decades of scientific advancement in alcohol policy / The Parliament, 15th January 2014, by Michel Craplet Michel Craplet is the senior medical advisor for L’Association Nationale de Prévention en Alcoologie et Addictologie and former Eurocare chairman. He fears that the EU alcohol and health forum risks being ineffective by using a one-size-fits-all approach. A better alcohol plan than eating fried canaries? / The BMA blog, by Robert Delis, 5 February 2014 A critical point of view regarding the first draft of the plan because it ignores the whole population approaches, which is the option favoured by public health experts. New EU Action Plan on Alcohol (NGO Recommendations) / EPHA (European Public Health Alliance), Article, November 2013 EPHA and Eurocare argue that the new EU Action Plan needs to complement the WHO “European Action Plan to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, 2012-2020”and to recognise the evidence base to support effective alcohol policies in Europe, as presented by “Alcohol in the European Union” (WHO, 2012). They call for a renewed alcohol strategy and also believe that an EU Alcohol Strategy would lay out a longer-term context to support the continuation of efforts at the EU level to address alcohol related harm. AB InBev – a key voice in the EU alcohol debate – A briefing on the alcohol lobby in Brussels and the potential for conflicts of interest / Friends of the Earth Europe, December 2012, 9 pages This briefing examines the activities of the alcohol lobby in Brussels, and in particular the lobbying activities of AB InBev. It shows that there is serious risk of conflicts of interest, with key policies on alcohol advertising, taxation and health warnings at stake.

Reports and scientific studies

The Role of Fiscal Policies in Health Promotion / OECD Health working papers, 2013, 51 pages This OECD paper provides a comprehensive review of the potential limitations, the benefits and the risks of taxes on commodities that are directly linked with health, such as tobacco and alcohol and other food and drinks. This paper concludes with a strong recommendation for introducing or changing existing taxes on these commodities, especially alcohol and tobacco, to support public health. Taxes on commodities which are risk factors for public health can be beneficial in several ways. Taxes can change consumption patterns, which could lead to less heavy use of alcohol and also promote the consumption of other products. Taxes will also give important revenues which can be used on health.

Alcohol Policy in Europe: Evidence from Alcohol Public Health Research Alliance (AMPHORA) / Anderson P, Braddick F, Reynolds J, and Gual, 2013, 169 pages The AMPHORA project was launched in 2008, with the aim to promote the creation of an Alcohol Public Health Research Alliance that could influence the debate on alcohol policy at a European level. The main outcomes of the scientific work of the AMPHORA project drive the need for stepped-up implementation of a number of alcohol policy actions. Were these actions implemented, there would be considerable benefit in terms of health gain, disability adjusted life years averted, and premature deaths avoided. This applies to price increases, restrictions on the availability of alcohol and bans on alcohol advertising.

Status report on alcohol and health in 35 European Countries 2013 / WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2013, 170 pages People in the WHO European Region consume the most alcohol per head in the world. In the European Union (EU), alcohol accounts for about 120 000 premature deaths per year: 1 in 7 in men and 1 in 13 in women. Most countries in the Region have adopted policies, strategies and plans to reduce alcohol-related harm. In 2012, the WHO Regional Office for Europe collected information on alcohol consumption and related harm, and countries policy responses to contribute to the Global Information System for Alcohol and Health; this report presented a selection of the results for 35 countries, individually and in groups distinguished by their drinking patterns and traditions.

European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020 / WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2012, 75 pages The European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020 was endorsed by all 53 Member States in the WHO European Region in September 2011. It includes a range of evidence-based policy options to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. The action plan is closely linked to the 10 action areas of the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2010.

Alcohol in the European Union – Consumption, harm and policy approaches / WHO Regional Office for Europe, edited by Peter Anderson, Lars Møller and Gauden Galea, 2012, 161 pages This report uses information gathered in 2011 to update key indicators on alcohol consumption, health outcomes and action to reduce harm across the European Union (EU). It gives an overview of the latest research on effective alcohol policies, and includes data from the EU, Norway and Switzerland on alcohol consumption, harm and policy approaches. The data were collected from a 2011 survey, carried out as part of a project of the European Commission and the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The report updates the evidence base for some important areas of alcohol policy, and provides policy-makers and other stakeholders in reducing the harm done to health and society by excessive drinking with useful information to guide future action.

Alcohol consumption among adults / Chapter from the OECD Report “Health at a glance: Europe 2012” The EU region has the highest alcohol consumption in the world. Measured through monitoring annual sales data, it stands at 10.7 litres of pure alcohol per adult on average across EU member states, using the most recent data available (Figure 2.6.1). Leaving aside Luxembourg – because of the high volume of purchases by non-residents in this country – Austria, France, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania reported the highest consumption of alcohol, with 12.0 litres or more per adult in 2010.

Commercial promotion of drinking in Europe – Key findings of independent monitoring of alcohol marketing in five European countries / AMMIE (Alcohol Marketing Monitoring in Europe), January 2012, 44 pages The report provides a comprehensive overview of the results of the monitoring work conducted by the participating NGOs in five European countries; Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands. It summarizes the individual findings of the five European countries on four different topics in alcohol marketing: trends, volume, complaints and sports sponsoring.

Alcohol and Cancer / Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), March 2013, 20 pages This report draws on the latest research to explain the relationship between alcohol and cancer and why this is a problem that the UK needs to tackle urgently.

Eyes on Ages – A research on alcohol age limit policies in European Member States. Legislation, enforcement and research / Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP), July 2013, 78 pages. At the request of the European Commission the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP) conducted a European study on the age limit policies for alcohol. The study focussed on legislation, enforcement and research on age limits for alcohol within the European Member States. This study shows that legal age limits for alcohol are, besides a legal topic, also a current concern in most countries. Main issue is the problem with the compliance of the age limits by sellers of alcohol. However, many strategies and interventions have been developed to tackle this problem in Europe. And good practices are definitely available. Enhanced labelling on alcoholic drinks: reviewing the evidence to guide alcohol policy / Martin-Moreno; Harris; Breda; Møller; Alfonso-Sanchez; Gorgojo, in: European Journal of Public Health, 2013, Vol. 23, Issue 6, pages 1082-1087 On the login page click on “IP authentication” (on the right corner at the top of the page) Consumer and public health organizations have called for better labelling on alcoholic drinks. However, there is a lack of consensus about the best elements to include. This review summarizes alcohol labelling policy worldwide and examines available evidence to support enhanced labelling.

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