A new EU Alcohol Strategy? - European Union Committee Contents


Added value to national action on alcohol-related harm

86.  Many of the policy options discussed in this report remain partly or wholly within Member State competence. We received a large amount of evidence emphasising the differences in drinking cultures, patterns and levels of harm across EU Member States, along with the great importance of local action in reducing alcohol-related harm. The question therefore arose, whether it would not be best to leave action on alcohol-related harm entirely to the Member States.

87.  In the 2006-12 Strategy, the Commission described the reasons for action at EU level as well as what it perceived to be its own role. It described its main role as raising awareness on major public health concerns at EU and Member State levels, and cooperating with Member States in addressing these; initiating action at EU level when this relates to its field of competence; and supporting and coordinating national actions. Such actions are intended to "complement Member State efforts, to add value to their actions and, in particular, to deal with issues that Member States cannot effectively handle on their own."

88.  The evaluation of the Strategy carried out in 2012 intended to set out its added value, and according to several of our witnesses succeeded in doing so.[90] Speaking generally, Mr Carlin quoted the WHO to say that "national and local efforts produce better results when they are supported by regional and global action within agreed policy frames."[91]

89.  We asked our witnesses to explain what role they thought the EU should and could play to assist national action on alcohol-related harm. Only Janice Atkinson MEP submitted that there should be no EU action on alcohol-related harm at all.[92] All others were more positive, and their comments regarding the success of the Strategy demonstrated that the EU's role in focusing the discussion, enabling the exchange of best practice and facilitating cross-border research were regarded as key in this respect. Mr Carlin linked this issue to the matter of competence discussed above, saying "That is the concept of subsidiarity and we absolutely agree that every Member State should remain free to develop and implement its own health policies, but the EU policy complements national actions."[93]

90.  The Sheffield University Alcohol Research Group (ScHARR) said that "the EU can play an important role by assessing whether Member States' alcohol policies are likely to achieve (a) their stated aims and (b) the aims of the EU Alcohol Strategy."[94] Referring to the interaction between alcohol policy at the national, regional and EU level, spiritsEUROPE believed that "the Commission should have a coordinating role in ensuring the coherence of messages from Member States, ensuring that there is no gap between the policies and orientations chosen in various international fora—given the autonomy Members States have in setting their respective national alcohol policies."[95]

91.  Some witnesses stressed that EU action should be clearly limited, not only by the EU's competence, but also to areas of added value, leaving all else to the Member States. A number of potential areas for action were identified as particularly suited to EU action, as they could not be sufficiently addressed by unilateral Member State action. These were primarily cross-border issues related to the trade of alcohol within the EU, including taxation and labelling, which we consider in Chapters 6 and 7.[96]

92.  On the other hand, some alcohol-related policy areas were explicitly excluded as unsuited to EU action, notably licensing arrangements and alcohol-related crime. Mr Greaves noted that such crime cost the UK around £11 billion each year, but he still cautioned that "It is just a question of the added value of EU co-operation, of which we remain to be convinced."[97]

93.  Mr Greaves also said that the previous Strategy's focus on alcohol-related health and other linked harms largely reflected the competence of the EU to take action to complement national policies directed towards improving public health. The EU's competence in relation to criminal matters did not explicitly cover alcohol-related crime. Before considering inclusion of alcohol-related crime in the Strategy, Ministers would need to be assured that any such action respected the limits of the EU's competence and the principle of subsidiarity. Aside from illicit alcohol, alcohol-related crime was not necessarily cross-border by nature: "There are not very new or fast-moving issues to be dealt with in this issue, as there are perhaps in drugs or other areas, and patterns of harm and the domestic responses around licensing regulations and criminal justice systems are very different by member state. Therefore, we remain to be convinced there is a compelling case for further co-operation in this area, but this is something that Home Office Ministers would be consulted on and consider on a case-by-case basis."[98]

94.  Action is worth formulating at EU level only to the extent that it supplements and supports what Member States can do independently.

Added value to international action on alcohol-related harm

95.  The WHO has supported EU Member States in reducing alcohol-related harm through its European Regional Office since the 1970s. The WHO European Action Plan on reducing the harmful use of alcohol was first implemented in 1992 and last updated in 2012. In 1995, the WHO European Charter on Alcohol was adopted at the European Conference on Health, Society and Alcohol, "in furtherance" of the European action plan.[99] Since 2002, the WHO has collected data through the European Alcohol Information System, as part of the Global Information System on Alcohol and Health.[100]

96.  The WHO European action plan is closely linked to the WHO's Global Strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2010,[101] and utilises the 10 areas for national action identified by the Global Strategy.

Box 7: Ten action areas of the WHO European Action Plan 2012-20
·  Leadership, awareness and commitment

·  Health services' response

·  Community and workplace action

·  Drink-driving policies and countermeasures

·  Availability of alcohol

·  Marketing of alcoholic beverages

·  Pricing policies

·  Reducing the negative consequences of drinking and alcohol intoxication

·  Reducing the public health impact of illicit alcohol and informally produced alcohol

·  Monitoring and surveillance

97.  Of the ten action areas, the WHO has identified measures relating to availability, marketing and pricing as 'best buys': interventions which are cheap, feasible and most cost-effective in reducing alcohol-related harm.[102] We received a large amount of evidence on the value of policies restricting alcohol advertising and regulating the price of alcoholic beverages, with much less being said about labelling or about policies restricting availability. This is probably due to the fact that setting licensing requirements and age limits for purchasing alcohol are solely within the competence of Member States. We discuss interventions on pricing, advertising and labelling in Chapters 6 and 7.

98.  In the light of the WHO's extensive work on reducing alcohol-related harm in Europe, we asked whether there was any need for additional EU action in this area, and if so, what shape such action should take in order to constitute real added value.

99.  Dr M¾ller noted that the WHO's remit was limited to health matters and that it therefore interacted only with national health ministries. He said "We can work with other sectors, but it has to pass through the ministry of health. I think the European Commission has better links to the different ministries that have impacts on alcohol policies. Therefore, the EU can be used to focus on more cross-border issues, which we are not able to do in the same way."[103]

100.  Ms Brown agreed: "There are also very important things which the EU can do within its mandate that the WHO cannot do. The European Union is a trading region and there are many elements where collective action is going to be stronger than Member States or nation states trying to implement policies on their own." In this regard she mentioned pricing, marketing and labelling of alcoholic beverages as "areas where the European Union could enact its mandate in order to ensure that the policies are implemented across the region and are not undermined by cross-border issues that could be introduced by individual Member States."[104]

101.  These statements illustrate the difference between alcohol health policy and alcohol policy more widely. We found our witnesses' arguments that the EU should reach beyond the WHO's health mandate by taking a "health in all policies" approach particularly convincing. The merits of such an approach will be discussed further in Chapter 5.

102.  We also considered how the EU and WHO alcohol strategies should interact in order to be most effective, and how this interaction had worked thus far. Dr M¾ller stated that cooperation between CNAPA, the European Commission and the WHO European Regional Office had been successful, in particular in the area of developing indicators. He was particularly positive about EU funding, which had enabled the WHO to proceed with research projects it would otherwise not have had the means to pursue.[105]

103.  Other witnesses stressed that there should not be any duplication between the WHO and EU Strategies.[106] Ms Ellison agreed, stating that while an EU Alcohol Strategy should be aligned with the objectives and indicators of the WHO action plan, the Government "definitely [did] not want to see the two strategies duplicating each other", and was in favour of a new strategy "addressing areas within its current rules and areas of competence while taking account of the WHO view."[107] The Institute of Alcohol Studies added that "a new EU Alcohol Strategy should complement existing WHO strategies by including targets and indicators that have been endorsed by Member States."[108]

104.  Although the recommendations made to Member States by the WHO Global Strategy and European Action Plan are not legally binding, EU action should not conflict with these recommendations.

105.  EU action on alcohol should continue to facilitate cooperation between the WHO European Regional Office and the Commission in the field of alcohol-related harm, in order to add to the evidence base and avoid duplication, in particular in the development and application of indicators.

Future work at EU level

106.  For the reasons outlined above, all but one of our witnesses were in favour of some form of continued EU action on alcohol, and the majority supported action continuing along the same or at least similar lines to those of the 2006-12 Strategy. Only one industry body indicated that a strategy might not necessarily be the most effective form of action against alcohol-related harm in Europe.[109] All others were adamant that there should continue to be an EU Alcohol Strategy, though they differed greatly in their opinions on what such a strategy should look like.

107.  Industry representatives all favoured, rather than an entirely new strategy, a "continuation" of the 2006-12 Strategy,[110] which would "build on the previous Strategy rather than seeking to create something entirely different."[111] Sue Eustace, Director of Public Affairs at the Advertising Association, described the Strategy as "still fit for purpose",[112] and Mr Beale felt that "We do not need to reinvent the wheel".[113] This view was also supported by the British Beer and Pub Association, The Brewers of Europe, the Scotch Whisky Association and spiritsEUROPE.[114]

108.  Industry witnesses such as Simon Spillane, Senior Adviser to The Brewers of Europe, also felt that the five priority areas of the Strategy were still relevant, and should remain the focus of EU action on alcohol-related harm: "These are areas that are still valid priorities and, to be honest, they will not ever go away entirely."[115] Eurocare agreed that the priorities remained valid, but felt strongly that they should be added to in the light of developments since 2006.[116] Lundbeck Ltd highlighted alcohol-related harm in the workplace as an area which needed increased attention,[117] while Eurocare advocated that this be separated from alcohol-related harm among adults more generally.

109.  We agree that the five themes remain relevant generally to addressing alcohol-related harm in EU Member States. However, given their varying success rates and developments since 2006, it is time to reconsider how suited they are to EU action, including coordination activities. If areas are to be described as 'priorities', they should be more specific and the responsibilities for taking action under them should be clearly allocated. Where the EU can act, it should take action based on the available evidence. Member States need some flexibility, but not so much that any standards imposed by the EU have no real effect.

110.  Our evidence has shown significant shortcomings in how the Strategy operated and still operates, in particular regarding CNAPA, the EAHF and research. Priority 5, relating to the establishment of a common evidence base, should be restated as a main priority and indeed a prerequisite for success in the remaining priority areas. These are specific issues which need to be addressed in a way that the previous Strategy did not, so while its underlying principles and priorities may still be valid, simply 'continuing' is not an option.

111.  There is much to be said for EU action which deals with matters within EU competence and addresses the weaknesses which our evidence has revealed. However, we see no point in the Member States agreeing on a new EU Strategy which is simply a continuation of the previous one.

112.  Any future EU action on alcohol abuse should state realistic, clearly defined and measurable objectives, and include an evaluation mechanism to assess its progress and added value.

113.  In the following chapters we consider those matters where it is in our view appropriate and potentially beneficial for the EU to take action. We look first at the possible policy approaches, and then at two of the WHO 'best buy' policies: pricing and marketing.

90   For example  Q141 (Ruxandra Draghia-Akli). Back

91    Q107 (Eric Carlin) Back

92   Written evidence from Janice Atkinson MEP, UKIP (EAS0003) Back

93    Q107 Back

94   Written evidence from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (EAS0014) Back

95   Written evidence from spiritsEUROPE (EAS0025) Back

96   For example  Q6 (Peter Anderson). Back

97    Q181 Back

98    Q181 Back

99   WHO, European Charter on Alcohol (14 December 1995): http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/ 0008/79406/EUR_ICP_ALDT_94_03_CN01.pdf [accessed 24 February 2015] Back

100   WHO, 'Global Health Observatory Data Repository (European Region)': http://apps.who.int/gho/data/ ?showonly=GISAH&theme=main-euro [accessed 24 February 2015] Back

101   WHO, Global Strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol (2010): http://www.who.int/ substance_abuse/alcstratenglishfinal.pdf [accessed 24 February 2015] Back

102   For example WHO, From Burden to "Best Buys": Reducing the Economic Impact of Non-Communicable Diseases in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (2011), p 7: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/ WEF_WHO_HE_ReducingNonCommunicableDiseases_2011.pdf [accessed 24 February 2015]; see also  Q7 (Peter Anderson) Back

103    Q77 Back

104    Q37 (Katherine Brown) Back

105    Q77 Back

106   Written evidence from the British Beer and Pub Association (EAS0013) and the Department of Health (EAS0019) Back

107    Q231 (Jane Ellison MP) Back

108   Written evidence from the Institute of Alcohol Studies (EAS0002) Back

109   Written evidence from WSTA (EAS0016) Back

110    Q201 (Henry Ashworth) Back

111   Written evidence from BBPA (EAS0013) Back

112    Q201 Back

113    Q186 Back

114   Written evidence from BBPA (EAS0013) and SWA (EAS0020);  Q118 (Paul Skehan);  Q119 (Simon Spillane) Back

115    Q119 Back

116   Written evidence from Eurocare (EAS0006) Back

117   Written evidence from Lundbeck Ltd (EAS0011) Back

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