Last week, the EU Health Council endorsed Council conclusions on “An EU strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm”. The joint Health Ministers of the EU Member States in this document call on the European Commission to publish an alcohol strategy by the end of next year.
During the Council meeting, which was also attended by Vytenis Andriukaitis, the Lithuanian EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, as many as 11 Health Ministers voiced their opinion that a special EU strategy should be reinforced. Their voting statement, as well as the Council conclusions show that the Ministers of Health are of the opinion that the alcohol problem in Europe is so serious that in addition to alcohol policies of the Member States, measures are also needed at EU level. It is particularly concerned with policy designed to reduce alcohol related problems with a cross-border dimension, such as labeling, e-commerce, audiovisual media services, excise duties and import quotas.
The new strategy should – according to the EU Health Council – align with the activities already undertaken by the Committee on National Alcohol Policy and Action (CNAPA) and the World Health Organization. It is striking that no mention is made in the document about the European Alcohol and Health Forum. During the council meeting, this forum was not mentioned at all by any Minister. It seems that with the departure of the joint health organizations from the Forum, it apparently has no future in the eyes of the Member States.
On April the 29th of this year the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the Commission to immediately begin preparing a new European Alcohol Strategy. Until now, the Commission has refused however. Andriukaitis shortly after adoption of the resolution by the European Parliament said in a speech that – in his opinion – the European alcohol policy does not need to be put separately in a special strategy, but that it can be incorporated into a broader policy paper on chronic lifestyle diseases. European health organizations felt that this statement from Andriukatis a curtsy to the alcohol industry. Therefore, last summer they collectively withdrew from the European Alcohol and Health Forum.
The Luxembourg Commission President Claude Juncker and Dutch First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, have so far not spoke out in favour of an Alcohol Strategy. However, it looks as though they may have to review the current state of affairs. Now that both the European Parliament and the EU Health Council have so explicitly asked for a strategic paper on alcohol, the Commission can no longer refuse. Commenting on the adopted Council conclusions Andriukatis immediately stated that the Commission has not definitively decided whether or not a new strategy will be prepared.