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EU needs an alcohol strategy, local and regional leaders say  

Call to increase labelling and alcolocks reflects focus on prevention

The European Committee of the Regions has called for the European Union to establish a new alcohol strategy and to improve labelling, increase efforts to protect children, target binge-drinking, and encourage the use of car locks to prevent drink-driving.

The recommendations are part of a broader demand by the CoR for the EU's member states and on the EU's decision-making authorities to make a concerted effort to reduce the impact of alcohol, particularly on pregnant women, children, young people, and road-users. The opinion, which was drafted by Ewa-May Karlsson (SE/ALDE), a member of Vindeln municipal council, follows the expiry of two alcohol-related EU initiatives in December 2016: the Joint Action on Reducing Alcohol Related Harm and the Action Plan on Youth Drinking and on Heavy Episodic Drinking. The EU has had no alcohol strategy since 2012.

Ms Karlsson said: "In effect, alcohol policy has been left entirely to member states, and often they allow the drinks industries to monitor and regulate themselves. Things cannot go on as they are, because the damage is huge and – in some respects – growing. Between 5 and 9 million children in the EU live in families where alcohol is abused. The financial costs of alcohol-related harm are colossal – up to €155.8 billion a year, according to figures used by the European Commission. Moreover, health inequalities are growing, which aggravates the dangers posed by alcohol to vulnerable groups and young people. It is still too easy to advertise to school-children, and, in addition, drinks producers are effectively moving more of their marketing efforts to the sponsorship of sporting and cultural events. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have an obligation to protect children and young people from the harmful effects of alcohol. The EU's member states – and the EU as a system – have to take those responsibilities more seriously. And we politicians have to be prepared to enter a ! political minefield."

The recommendations provoked some strong views in early discussions, but the CoR aligned with the rapporteur's positions on the final amendments submitted to the CoR's plenary session on 9 February.

In endorsing the idea of a new EU alcohol strategy, the CoR is joining a call from both the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. Estonia has said that alcohol-related issues will be a priority during its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, which starts in July 2017. Alco! hol was also a priority for Latvia during its presidency in early 2015.

The opinion highlights that alcohol is a subject of a range of global activities to which EU member states are party – particularly a World Health Organization action plan and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals – and argues that the EU could force changes to labelling and should continue to facilitate the exchange of best practice. General agreement on problems and solutions would encourage member states to take steps to limit dangers.

"Alcohol can damage our communities and causes problems that affect the schools, hospitals and streets run by local and regional authorities. Local leaders should have a say in the direction of alcohol policy, and we can contribute significantly because the! y often know best what measures will limit the negative effects of alcohol in our communities."

The CoR's recommendations include proposals: to ban marketing and advertising of alcohol to children, including via social media; to move away from self-monitoring and self-regulation; to boost information campaigns, including through classes at school and labelling targeted at women and children; to encourage joint efforts, including research, to prevent the sale of extremely cheap alcohol, including online sales; to increase efforts to monitor alcohol sales and to collect data on alcohol-related issues.

The CoR backed the promotion of a mechanism – 'alcolocks' – that uses an in-car breathalyser to prevent drunk drivers from igniting their engines, as part of efforts! to bring down the number of deaths on Europe's roads. The opinion cites figures showing that drink-driving is responsible for 25% of all fatal car accidents in the EU.

Andrew Gardner
Tel. +32 473 843 981

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