EU alcohol strategy: Time for the Commission to turn political will into action
There needs to be better cooperation between the member states to help tackle the deadly risks presented by alcohol abuse, writes Younous Omarjee.
Younous Omarjee | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
Alcohol is a risk factor for 60 chronic diseases and neuropsychiatric disorders. It is the second largest lifestyle-related cause of disease in some European countries.
Alcohol abuse is also to blame for certain incidences of domestic violence, road accidents, and is one of the main risks of death in Europe.
Moreover, these problems represent an economic cost estimated at about €150bn per year. Yet, Europe is the world's heaviest alcohol consumer, reaching two times the global average.
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The European Parliament, in a resolution adopted early in 2015, called on the European Commission to propose a new strategy against alcohol-related harm in Europe. The previous European alcohol strategy expired in 2012 and we urgently need to replace it and push for more effective actions from member states and the EU.
The resolution called for more cooperation between member states and the exchange of good practices in the areas of youth protection, the reduction of road accidents, awareness and prevention.
As a co-sponsor of this resolution, I stressed the need for better EU cooperation in order to improve early diagnosis and access to treatment, especially in remote and isolated areas such as the EU's outermost regions.
It is of utmost importance that treatments are accessible and affordable for people suffering from alcohol-related disorders everywhere in Europe. It should also be a priority to implement screening programmes and specific intervention in cases of harmful and hazardous consumption.
We need better cooperation between stakeholders to support people suffering from alcohol-related problems to help them end their addiction, and also to prevent relapse.
I also would like to stress the need to help and support young people who are particularly at risk from alcohol. In all European countries, the phenomenon of excessive consumption of large amounts of alcohol (binge drinking) affects over 60 per cent of young people in Europe.
I have therefore called for special attention to this problem in Europe and stressed the need for more restrictive regulations on the sale of alcohol to minors in Europe. I am convinced that this should be dealt with at European level. The EU is best suited for putting pressure on member states to improve their national laws.
The resolution proposes concrete measures to fight against alcohol-related harm and diseases, in particular to vulnerable persons, such as young people or pregnant women.
One of the solutions proposed in the resolution is to impose the same nutritional information requirements on alcoholic beverages as for other food products.
I have personally suggested to go further and to require clear labelling of the effects of alcohol and health risks in Europe. We need clear and concise messages for a real impact on people, in particular young people.
I also believe the EU should focus not just on the problem, but also its causes. These can differ both among and within the member states. We need to find a global solution, as well as solutions that are adapted to each individual case, taking into account the particularities and culture of each region.
The resolution also calls for the development of appropriate strategies at European level to fight counterfeiting and the illegal sale of alcohol, which heavily contributes to the level of consumption in some member states and significantly reduces the positive effects of alcohol-related policies.
Last November, the Council adopted its conclusions and urged the Commission to adopt, by the end of the year, a comprehensive EU strategy dedicated to the reduction of alcohol-related harm and comprising actions across EU policies in order to tackle the health, social and economic consequences of the harmful use of alcohol. This is a first step, and Parliament will be keeping a close eye on any developments.
It is now up to the European Commission to translate this political will into a proposal for a renewed and enhanced European strategy on the reduction of alcohol-related harm.
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