A new EU Alcohol Strategy? - European Union Committee Contents


Health in all policies

114.  Both the Government and public health interest groups strongly urged that the EU adopt a 'health in all policies' approach to alcohol-related harm by the EU. Mr Carlin described the rationale for such an approach: "The alcohol Strategy has been located within and led by DG SANCO, but it should be an overarching strategy owned by Member States and by the whole Commission."[118] Ms Brown said that, in future, policy-makers in the Commission "need to have an awareness that alcohol is everybody's business: it crosses all the Directorates-General across Europe and is not just an issue for DG SANCO. We need to have an education process whereby colleagues in DG Tax, DG Info and DG Trade understand the impact that alcohol has across their policy briefs and that alcohol harm has in general across society."[119]

115.  Mr Acton added that the Government "would like a new strategy that focuses more on a Health in All Policies approach as far as the EU's own policies are concerned. There are quite a number of EU rules and pieces of legislation that were devised some time before the current EU alcohol Strategy."[120] He also provided evidence of the concrete benefits which such an approach has yielded in the past: "One positive example that I could give is to do with the common market organisation for wine. The reform of that regime has led, and is leading, to positive developments such as a reduction of subsidies for cheap spirits and the EU promoting quality wine much more."[121]

116.  We agree that this approach should form the core of any future EU action on alcohol-related harm. Given the EU's limited competences in the field of health, it seems to us that this is where the EU can add real value to Member State action by ensuring that, where it does have competence, its own policies are not at odds with the public health goals enshrined in the Treaties. Such a mainstreaming approach should nonetheless be combined with explicit action on alcohol abuse as a distinct policy area.

117.  Future EU action on alcohol abuse should not be confined to action under health policy, but should take a 'health in all policies' approach reflected through EU policies on related areas such as food labelling, cross-border marketing and taxation.

Targeted or overall population measures

118.  Witnesses disagreed on whether EU action on alcohol-related harm should aim to reduce the overall level of drinking across the EU's population through so-called 'whole population measures'.

119.  Industry representatives strongly contested such measures in both oral and written evidence, commending the Strategy for not adopting them. They instead advocated targeted measures addressing harmful alcohol use only, arguing that whole population measures unjustly penalise drinkers who are moderate consumers, to which group they claim the "vast majority" of adults belong.[122]

120.  For the same reason they opposed the WHO's 'best buy' measures, of which Dr M¾ller said: "It is very clear that the industry does not want to have any population-wide measures. It wants to have individual-based approaches to change people's behaviour, such as targeting those who drink too much. That is completely different from our evidence."[123]

121.  Witnesses from the public health sector, on the other hand, insisted that whole population measures were a key component to any policy seeking to reduce alcohol-related harm in the long term. The Minister agreed, stressing the complexity of policy-making and explaining that the most effective policy approach was one which combined various types of measures. Giving the UK's own approach to alcohol policy as an example, she said that "pragmatically, it tends to be a combination of both. It is clearly up to member states how far each one's strategy adopts the population or individual approach, but I think that in practice most people will use a blend of the two." [124]

122.  She then set out a very clear justification for choosing a blend of measures:

    "One of the challenges in taking an either/or approach … is that, first, I do not think that anyone thinks of themselves as a binge drinker … I had a conversation recently with someone within the industry who had the potential to be quite influential in a particular area of policy and I was quite interested to discover that there was a complete misunderstanding between us as to who we were talking about. His view was that we were talking about street drinkers when we referred to harmful drinkers, whereas we were talking about people who were just drinking more than is good for their health as defined by medical guidelines … We want to talk to that person, too, and that is why you have to talk in terms of population measures and those more general terms, because otherwise there is a danger that people just think, 'They're not talking about me'."[125]

123.  We believe that the most effective policy approach is one which combines measures at population level intended to reduce overall levels of consumption, with targeted measures intended to reduce harmful consumption. Such measures, if adopted at EU level, should allow enough flexibility for Member States to adapt to them to their specific national context.

118    Q104 Back

119    Q37 Back

120    Q15 Back

121    Q15 Back

122   Written evidence from BBPA (EAS0013), WSTA (EAS0016), SABMiller (EAS0009), spiritsEUROPE (EAS0025) and Portman Group (EAS0018) Back

123    Q91 Back

124    Q234 Back

125    Q235 Back

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