The European Economic and Social Committee opinion on EU Alcohol Strategy
By Dr. Ann Hope, Expert for the Rapporteur Ms. Jillian van Turnhout.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) opinion on the Communication from the Commission, An EU strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol related harm, was adopted at its plenary session on 30 May 2007
The EESC section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, responsible for preparing the Committee's opinion, established a study group with representation from employers (Group 1), trade unions (Group 2) and civic society groups (Group 3). The process was ably led by Vice President Ms Van Turnhout as rapporteur and Mr Janseon as co- rapporteur. The draft opinion presented to the first meeting was well received, in fact some members felt it was not strong enough. At the second meeting, it emerged that almost all members had been strongly lobbied by the drinks industry. The European Spirits Organisation (CEPS) circulated a document to the meeting with their proposed amendments to the draft opinion. In fact, they recommended that 18 points be totally deleted and a further 20 points be either amended or new points added, in essence a counter-opinion. Many of their proposed changes re-emerged in the section meeting and again in the plenary meeting. Some of the amendments (which were rejected at plenary) are outlined in the Appendix to the opinion of the EESC. The main thrust of the amendments were that critical analysis of the strategy was to be avoided, that the alcohol abuser was the problem and that more education would solve the problem. The process showed the ‘might' and persistence of the drinks industry. However, for once, balance did prevail thanks to the EESC members.
The opinion sought to highlight the positive aspects as well as the deficiencies in the EU strategy and to make recommendations to strengthen efforts to reduce alcohol related harm.
Some of the highlights are:
Positive aspects of EU Strategy:
- Strategy is a welcome step in reducing alcohol related harm
- Recognition that harm to others beside the drinkers is very important
- A clear measurable target for reducing road traffic accidents
- The development of a common evidence base
Deficiencies of EU strategy:
- The strategy is not comprehensive and does not include all relevant policy areas
- No mention that alcohol as a toxic substance contributes to harm
- The strategy has too much focus on education despite its low rate of effectiveness
- Most of the priority areas lack clear measurable targets and timelines
- EU internal rules cause problems for some countries, but no solutions are proposed
- Ensure community action complements national policies.
- Reduce the exposure of children to alcohol products, advertising and promotion as a specific target to provide greater protection for children.
- Pay special attention to domestic violence given its link to heavy drinking.
- Address the economic consequences of alcohol related harm.
The opinion of the EESC is available at: