In an event on alcohol policy in Europe, held at the European Parliament, the European Commission has been criticised for its failure to tackle alcohol harm in Europe.
The event called “Alcohol – Why is it a big thing?” brought together civil society leaders, Members of the European Parliament, officials from the European Commission and representatives from the Member States in order to assess and debate the state of alcohol policy in the European Union.
Jytte Guteland, a Swedish MEP from the S&D political party group, said that the choice of the title “Alcohol – Why is it a big thing?” refers to the European Commission’s policy motto “Big on the big things” and serves to highlight that Team Juncker has not managed to live up to its own motto. Alcohol related harm causes costs of about €156 billion every year and despite being such a big burden on Europe’s economy, social fabric and public health the European Commission has not been up to the task to address alcohol harm with evidence-based measures in sustainable ways.
Ms. Guteland said that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has failed to prioritise action, despite health being the fourth most important priority for EU citizens.
The reason why we need to talk to the Commission about the situation is because the alcohol strategy has not been renewed and we don’t get the answers from the Commission that we expected.”
This event in the European Parliament is part of the 3rd Awareness Week on Alcohol-Related Harm (AWARH). The aim of AWARH is to increase awareness of the need to address alcohol-related harm in Europe, and highlight the need to address it through an integrated approach to alcohol policy. Within the AWARH, this event at the European Parliament aims at discussing and demonstrating the overwhelming burden of alcohol-related harm in Europe, propose possible solutions to the problem and be a catalyst for debate at European and national levels.
Martin Seychell, the deputy director general at the European Commission’s DG SANTE, struggled to answer critical questions but attempted to encourage MEPs, Member States and civil society by promising that alcohol policies and the ‘health in all policies’ approach will not suffer from the European Commission’s new internal structure – which has already seen many health policies delayed or scrapped.
The European Commission made its plans public to publish an alcohol strategy as part of a wider strategy to tackle chronic diseases – also known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – instead of focusing on alcohol as a risk factor in itself. But this plan has been widely criticised, too, because alcohol is not only one of four major risk factors for NCDs, but is alcohol a risk factor for road traffic accidents and injuries, for gender-based violence, for HIV/ Aids and for workplace-related accidents and injuries, as well as mental health conditions.
European law-makers and civil society activists continue to be highly critical of the European Commission for its on-going failure to tackle alcohol harm and its inability to live up to its own motto of being big at big things.