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Future EU Action on alcohol must focus on areas within its powers, says Lords Committee

The European Union must act to combat alcohol-related harm, a Lords report urges today. Any new action by the EU should focus on measures within its powers, and not rely just on action by Member States.

Alcohol abuse is the third highest cause of disease and death in Europe, the world region with the highest alcohol consumption per head. The rate of liver-deaths in the UK has nearly quadrupled over the last 40 years.

In 2006 the EU adopted an Alcohol Strategy aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm. This expired in 2012. The House of Lords Committee has considered whether there should be a new EU strategy.

The Committee reaches three main conclusions:

  • 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.

Chairman of the Committee, Baroness Prashar, said:

“The previous EU Alcohol Strategy had the laudable goal of reducing alcohol-related harm, but the EU missed a real opportunity to take effective action in combatting alcohol abuse across all Member States. 

“During our inquiry we heard from manufacturers, retailers and advertisers about the voluntary initiatives they have developed to tackle the harm caused by alcohol abuse. Voluntary action alone is not enough. It must be backed by legislation at EU level, and industry should play a constructive role in bringing this about. 

“We also need further cross-border research on alcohol abuse, its effects, and what works to prevent it. The EU is well placed to commission such research, but it was clear during the course of our inquiry that the way this is currently done is unsatisfactory. A more strategic approach is needed in the selection of research topics, and the way research is commissioned, and a clear distinction should be drawn between those conducting the research and those formulating policy. 

“Minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a highly controversial topic, views are sharply divided, and no Member State currently has a MUP law. In 2012 the Scottish Government, however, decided to introduce MUP, and the UK Government undertook to do the same. Our view is that if MUP proves successful in bringing health benefits to the heaviest drinkers in Scotland, the UK Government should honour the commitment it gave in 2012 and follow suit.

“The Latvian Presidency is holding a Council next month on EU alcohol policy. We hope that this report will encourage meaningful action on matters which are within the EU's power.”

You can watch a YouTube video of Baroness Prashar talking about the report, its findings and recommendations.

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