The die has been cast in the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment and Public Health: On 31 March, Committee members adopted a resolution on the EU Alcohol Strategy and at AB InBev, we’re happy that their efforts are moving this debate forward.
If nothing else, the resolution has made clear that the conversation on reducing alcohol misuse and excessive drinking is anything but dead. The more than 300 amendments tabled speak volumes about the diversity of policy maker and stakeholder views…as well as key areas of convergence among them.
Consumer information has emerged as a hot topic: it’s abundantly clear that MEPs will not tolerate the status quo, and neither will we. Consumers have the right to know what’s in their beer, which is why AB InBev, together with other major European brewers, last week committed to make full information on ingredients and nutrition in alcohol beverages the new norm.
We also wholeheartedly agree with MEPs that maintaining a multi-stakeholder approach is a must. Many of today’s challenges are simply too complex to handle by anyone alone. As the 2012 independent Assessment of the EU Strategy has shown, the multi-stakeholder approach – enshrined in the European Alcohol and Health Forum – has delivered tangible actions that are helping reduce alcohol related harm. That momentum is surely worth preserving.
So what’s next? The road to Riga…
The Resolution – which still has to be adopted by MEPs in a plenary session – is expected to provide fodder for discussion amongst the EU Health Ministers at their meeting on 20-21 April, in Riga, where they will set the course of the future EU Alcohol Strategy. Until they give a clear mandate to the Commission to move forward, nothing will happen at EU level.
But the EP Resolution won’t be the sole basis for their decision. The other key document that ministers are expected to consider is the “CNAPA scoping paper” – a paper drafted by a committee of national health experts who, odd though it may seem, operate somewhat independently from their national health ministers. As it so happens, the CNAPA paper takes what could be considered a bit of a hardliner stance: pushing for tough alcohol control policies. Regrettably, despite the 2012 Assessment, it gives little credence to the added value of a multi-stakeholder approach. To what extent this reflects the actual views of governments remains to be seen.
While both the EP Resolution and the CNAPA papers raise similar issues to be considered for the Strategy – both talk about marketing and taxation, for example - they go about it in markedly different ways. The EP Resolution takes a nuanced approach, suggesting a number of issues that countries could look at to reduce alcohol related harm for their own populations, while accounting for cultural specificities. Put plainly, the Resolution denounces the ‘one size fits all’ approach.
On the other hand the CNAPA scoping paper throws the principle of subsidiarity to the wind, preferring any future Strategy to take a prescriptive approach focused on a few alcohol control policies. Given that health remains a Member State competence, how exactly an EU Strategy could implement these is a rather important unanswered question.
One way or another, the Riga meeting will set the direction for the future of the Strategy and the Ministers are finding themselves faced with a definite fork in the road. At this point, not even the EU’s health chiefs may know which path they will choose. They can be sure they’ve got the team here at AB InBev waiting with baited breath to find out – and ready to dive deep into the substance with anyone interested in our views!
To be continued…