The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

Alcohol strategies in the EU

David Casa Thursday, 3 October 2013, 07:52 Last update: about 6 years ago

The World Health Organization reported in 2012 that Europe currently holds the highest per-capita alcohol consumption in the world. Furthermore, it is reported that the average adult in the EU consumes nearly 3 drinks a day - more than twice the world average.

Hazardous alcohol consumption is the third largest risk factor for ill health in the EU, responsible for more than 195,000 deaths annually, according to the EU´s 2009 progress report on the Implementation of the EU Alcohol Strategy.

In 2006, the EU launched its initial Alcohol Strategy. This strategy was designed to help governments coordinate their action to reduce alcohol related harm in the EU. Rather that impose strict, uniform legislation on member states, the initial strategy relied upon policy coordination and exchanges of best practices between countries. In 2007, the strategy introduced an alcohol and health forum through which member states could engage in debate and compare approaches.

The 2006 EU Alcohol Strategy targets five themes which the Commission considers relevant in all member states: to protect young people, to reduce alcohol-related road accidents, to prevent alcohol-related harm in the workplace, to raise awareness on the potentially harmful effects of alcohol, and to develop a common evidence base, from which further alcohol-related measures will be taken.

Since 2006, most member states have updated and reinforced their alcohol strategies based on the directions outlined by the EU Alcohol Strategy. However, despite a decline in consumption of alcohol over the past few years, Europe´s per-capita alcohol consumption is still the highest in the world. For this reason, the EU Alcohol Strategy is still highly relevant. There is still a need for leadership concerning how to reduce and prevent alcohol-related harm in member states. Furthermore, it is evident that there remains room for strategy reforms. Continued coordination on alcohol policy at the EU level is a necessity. But, while continued coordination of member states is extremely important to the success of alcohol reforms, we must not push for the adoption of uniform legislation throughout the EU. This type of approach is neither possible nor appropriate. EU policy on alcohol-related matters must remain a complement to, rather than a replacement for, national legislation.

EU data indicates that alcohol consumption has remained broadly stable for most member states since the adoption of the Alcohol Initiative. However, fluctuations in alcohol consumption are still trending; Estonia, Latvia, and Poland have exhibited steep increases in consumption while Malta and Luxembourg have steadily declined over the past few years. These varying trends in alcohol consumption indicate the need for varying policy throughout the EU, with each member state using the Alcohol Strategy as a reference for how to conduct its own policies.

Building on the momentum generated by the World Health Assembly adoption of resolution WHA63.13 in 2010, which aims to reduce the harmful use of alcohol globally, the EU implemented a revitalized action plan. Specifically, the European Action Plan focuses on reducing the harmful use of alcohol between 2012 and 2020 even further by reinvigorating the strategies executed by the 2006 Alcohol Strategy.

The EU’s contribution to member states´ alcohol policy can be beneficial. But as EU data demonstrates, each nation experiences unique trends in alcohol consumption and habits. Alcohol consumption, even in amounts that are far from ideal, is considered socially acceptable in most societies. Think of it this way; if a substance that induced aggressive behaviour, removed inhibitions, caused potential memory loss, passing out and inflicted serious consequences on one’s health would it ever be legalised today? Alcohol is part of our culture, but people need to be better informed of potential consequences and educated to value moderation over all else.

David Casa is a Nationalist MEP and a candidate for the EP elections

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