The European Union must act to combat alcohol-related harm, urges a new report published by the House of Lords EU Committee. A New EU Alcohol Strategy? argues that any new action by the EU should focus on measures within its powers, and not rely just on action by Member States, or voluntary commitments from industry.

The report reaches three main conclusions from its inquiry into the previous strategy:

  • The 2006-12 strategy, while well-intentioned, did not concentrate on what the EU itself can act on. Consequently it achieved little. In developing any new action the EU should therefore concentrate on what it can do, over and above any initiatives the Member States can take on their own. In particular, the EU should ensure that its own policies contribute to the reduction of alcohol-related harm and excessive drinking.
  • The current EU alcohol taxation regime prevents Member States from raising duties on the most harmful substances, and provides incentives to purchase drinks with higher alcohol contents. This illogical taxation structure must be reformed.
  • The EU rules on food labelling must be amended to include alcoholic drinks. These labels should include, as a minimum, the strength, the calorie content, guidelines on safe drinking levels, and a warning about the dangers of drinking when pregnant. Voluntary commitments are not enough.

Committee Chair, Baroness Prashar, said that the inquiry identified the need for the EU to conduct more satisfactory cross-border research on alcohol abuse, its effects, and what works to prevent it. The inquiry also suggested that the UK Government “should honour the commitment it gave in 2012” by introducing minimum unit pricing if it proved successful in bringing health benefits to the heaviest drinkers in Scotland.

Responding to the report, Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said:
“We welcome the recommendations made by the House of Lords. They provide some much needed common sense at a time when the EU Alcohol Strategy appears to be the victim of bureaucratic blunders in Brussels. With alcohol use the third leading cause of death and disability in Europe, the absence of a comprehensive policy to tackle this issue is indefensible.

“The European Commission has repeatedly ignored calls from Member States and public health professionals for a new EU Alcohol Strategy. We cannot afford any further delays, so let’s hope that this report provides impetus for action.”

A new EU alcohol strategy? was published by the EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs, Health and Education. Watch Baroness Prashar talk about how a future EU alcohol strategy might look (below).