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Member of the European Commission, Responsible for HEALTH

Curbing Alcohol Abuse in Europe

European Alcohol and Health Forum
Brussels, 16 April 2008

Ladies and gentlemen,

As the new Commissioner for Health, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to meet you, the members and observers of the European Alcohol and Health Forum.

It is now around 10 months that my predecessor Markos Kyprianou launched the European Alcohol and Health Forum. It was established as a formal and open process, bringing together players willing to enter into binding and verifiable commitments that could help to reduce alcohol-related harm.

I think we all agree on the need to reduce alcohol-related harm and on the fact that this is something we all need to contribute to. It is among the main Public Health challenges and, as Commissioner for Health, among my main priorities. Although you will know the relevant data, let me rapidly set the scene:

  • Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption is a key health determinant and one of the main causes of premature death and avoidable diseases. It is a net cause of 7.4% of all ill-health and early death in the European Union, and has a negative impact on labour and productivity;
  • Young people are particularly at risk: hazardous alcohol consumption causes over 10% of EU female mortality and around 25% of male mortality in the 15-29 age group;

The total tangible cost of alcohol to EU society in 2003 is estimated at €125bn, equivalent to 1.3% of the EU GDP.

I trust none of you would disagree that overall, this paints a most disturbing picture. Furthermore, these simple figures represent an intolerable level of human suffering, which is only partly self-inflicted, since alcohol is an addictive substance and harmful alcohol consumption also causes harm to those who do not drink themselves.

This is of course not to say that there is nothing positive to say about alcohol. Drinking alcohol in moderation is no problem for most people and can contribute to enjoying life. However, from a public health point of view, the costs unfortunately outweigh the benefits.

You will discuss today the commitments for action that you, the Forum members, have tabled, and I consider it is the right moment for a first exchange of views on the development of this process.

I am of course aware that we cannot now discuss the impact the Forum initiatives will be having - we will come to that next year. However, I would be pleased to have a short exchange on how you evaluate the development of the Forum process.

Before hearing from you, let me first give you my first impressions. Overall, from the little information I have been able to look at until now, I have the feeling that the Forum is going in the right direction. Nevertheless, I consider that there is still reasonable room for progress.

From what I can see, the first objective of the Forum has been attainted. Since its launch, it worked as a common platform for all interested actors at European level where they can explain their plans to contribute concretely to the reduction of alcohol-related harm.

I see as a really positive outcome the fact that at regular intervals the Forum brings together for joint debate organisations which, in the past, have tended to avoid sitting at the same table. This is the first occasion at European level where we can see the alcohol and advertising industries sharing ideas with health NGOs, youth organisations and medical associations. I do not underestimate the potential benefits from these exchanges.

Focussing on the commitments that you have made so far, let me first of all say that I am impressed with the amount of actions to which you have committed yourselves in such a relatively short span of time.

From a first analysis it appears to me that there are some promising initiatives relevant to the objectives of the Forum, but I also have some questions on which I would wish to have your opinion:

  • Will these commitments suffice to respond to the public expectation created by the Forum?
  • Do you see any area where you could combine efforts to increase impact, for example by joint commitments cutting across categories of stakeholders?
  • Are the tabled initiatives ambitious enough?
  • Is the combined 'weight' of these initiatives attaining the critical mass that would make the difference?

Let me finally say that we are just at the beginning of a process, and I do recognise that an exercise like this, as well as a number of the specific actions you propose, take time.

So let me now give the floor to you.

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