The future of alcohol policy in the EU

Guest article by Emil Juslin – European Policy Officer at IOGT-NTO 

The last 2 years have seen remarkable progress on the EU level when it comes to public health-based alcohol policy, a brief moment of tailwind in a field that usually is met with the opposite. Recent successes, such as Ireland’s landmark legislation on health warnings on alcohol as well as the EU cancer plan, shows that ambition does exist for a public health-based alcohol policy, but it has also shed a light on the remaining barriers that still exist for EU to fully commit to an alcohol policy that puts people before profits. So, with one year until the next EU election, where do we go from here?

Efforts for the implementation of public health-based alcohol policy are often severely hindered by the structure of the EU as a competition and commerce-first organisation. For real change to happen, and to fully commit to health-in-all-policies, the EU need to fundamentally change the structures around alcohol policy making. IOGT-NTO has three fields that we see are necessary to facilitate alcohol policy on the EU level. 

1.Introduce rigorous health impact assessments on all EU policy 

A long-term issue on effective alcohol policy in the EU has been that, while the ambition and intention of new legislation can be health-related, it is often negatively affected by the current framework for impact assessments.  

Impact assessments have since its introduction mainly focused on the commercial and economic effects from a business perspective of new EU policy, often with limited input on health consequences. This leads to impact assessments of new EU policy that is heavily skewed towards policy that benefits businesses over health policy solutions.  

A solution to this would be to introduce mandatory health impact assessments on EU policy. Health impact assessment would, instead of focusing on new policy from a strictly competitive view, instead focus on the public health benefits. This would reduce the structural barrier that exists today that often neglects public health policy benefits due to a competing commercial interest.  

2. Further recognition of the negative effect health harming industries has on health policy  

The industry is not a part of the solution, but a part of the problem. Industry interference remains as a key obstacle for efficient alcohol policy in the EU. Alcohol industry actors are frequently and uncritically invited to the policy table, disregarding that the industry has an inherent profit interest opposite to the public best. A recent report from IOGT-NTO and Movendi International show that the EU commission met with alcohol industry 19 times more often than with civil society.  

It is important that structures, similar to what has already been done on tobacco with the FCTC, are adopted to both recognize the negative impact industry lobbying has on health policy, as well as measures to counteract this. A first step towards this would be an EU strategy to counteract commercial determinants of health.  

3. Strengthen internal procedures for alcohol policy 

Alcohol policy is a topic that today is discussed over a wide array of working groups and committees. The consequence is that EU alcohol policy is incoherent over the fields, where alcohol can be seen as everything from a serious public health concern that needs measures, to a product that EU should advertise externally. 

To ensure that all alcohol policy remains health-focused first, it is important that alcohol policy is handled inside health or specific alcohol committees and working groups that has health as their primary priority. Only then we can ensure that alcohol policy is discussed from a health perspective first. 

Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA. 

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