Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms. Phil Prendergast MEP

Wednesday, 13th February 2013

I thank the Acting Chairman for facilitating me and allowing me to speak. I apologise that I had to leave the Chamber briefly because I had to attend the internal meeting that also detained Senator Cummins. However, I was present for Ms Prendergast’s intervention at the beginning. I welcome her.

I still feel relatively new here but the issues that I wish to mention today relate to the Single Market and the multi-annual financial framework. I want to question her specifically on those issues given her work on the Internal Market and her opening comments. As we know 2012 represented the 20th anniversary of the European Single Market. The development of the Single Market is a key priority and it is a key priority for the Irish Presidency. However, we are all very aware that it remains incomplete and Ms Prendergast mentioned where it is incomplete in her intervention. During the Single Market week held in October 2012 there was an opportunity for the private sector and citizens to engage, on a personal level, in the European policy area. I shall mention four of the areas that were raised then. Perhaps Ms Prendergast can enlighten us and share her opinions on the concerns raised. First, access to the market of a host country can be restricted by national certification or regulations that do not exist to the same extent in the home country. For me that goes against the principle of a Single Market and single area.

Second, cross-border procurement can be a problem. This is the age of electronic and online technology but many procurement procedures require a hard copy to be delivered rather than use electronic means.

Third, e-commerce is very popular at national level but it is more difficult at international level. We are very aware of the different regulations for areas such as consumer protection and data privacy and that makes things difficult. The playing field is uneven or unequal when it comes to e-commerce.

The fourth area related to European start-ups and that surprised me. On average, European start-ups are only entitled to half the amount of venture funding of their US counterparts. Is there a way to redress that imbalance? We must ensure that we have an even playing field between the US and the EU if we want to encourage start-ups. Ireland is extremely interested in promoting entrepreneurship.

Many of these issues will be addressed by the Single Market Act which is in its final stages of implementation. It always seems to be problematic to reach a completed option. The adoption of the Act should be expedited because it is a job-creating opportunity for Ireland, the Irish Presidency and the EU. I would welcome Ms Prendergast’s opinion on the Act.

As Ms Prendergast has informed us, the Commission recently introduced the Single Market Act II. To what extent does the second Act address the issues that were identified by the consultations, the four areas that I repeated here, during the Single Market week? To what extent does it fill the gaps left by the first Act? I would appreciate anything she has to share with us on that matter.

Last week was an interesting, exciting and challenging week for us all, both personally and stamina wise. For me the negotiations that took place in Brussels on the multi-annual financial framework at the European Council summit were extremely important and I am very aware of the Parliament’s role. I am also very aware that Ms Prendergast has previously stated that the budget must do more to stimulate growth in the European economy. I know that the Parliament will be looking at the multi-annual financial framework and the proposals on the budget. I want Ms Prendergast to tell us, as a preliminary opinion, whether she supports the proposals by the European Council. Does she think they go far enough? I thank the Acting Chairman and Ms Prendergast.

Address to Seanad Éireann by Mr. Gay Mitchell MEP

Thursday, 24th January 2013

I welcome Mr. Gay Mitchell, MEP, to the House. I ask my question in light of the fact that Mr. Mitchell has twice won the title of MEP of the year for development. I did not necessarily know that he was the leading figure who successfully negotiated the development co-operation instrument in 2006. While that may sound like nothing much, that co-operation instrument has a budget of €16.9 billion between 2007 and 2013 and ensures scrutiny by the Parliament in development work. I also point to his more recent report on establishing a financing instrument for development co-operation and the lessons learned from that.

My question is in light of a Seanad debate in November on sexual violence in conflict and rape as a weapon of war. I spoke about Burma, Sudan’s Darfur region and, in particular, the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC. I am very concerned about the escalating conflict in the DRC and the lack of attention it receives here. Given Mr. Mitchell’s role and experience as vice chairman of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, I would like his advice on the positive role we could play in highlighting what is happening. While we know the DRC has had many wars, the current war has claimed 3 million lives, both as a direct result of the conflict and as a result of disease and malnutrition. As Mr. Mitchell’s speech today showed, there is a clear link between conflict and poverty. What role can we play?

Recent Developments in Eurozone and European Council – Statements

16th December 2011

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and for her regular communications with us. She has been here before and, as a regular tweeter, her tweets have been keeping us informed, even during the European Council. She shows great initiative. I also wish to note the signing of the accession treaty with Croatia. It is a long time coming for the people of Croatia and is highly significant. I wish it had more coverage and debate. I also welcome the initiative on the blue flag for primary schools but I am sure we will hear more about that next year.

Looking at last week’s Council meeting, David Cameron told the British House of Commons he went to Brussels with only one intention, to defend British interests. That made me think about our common interests. Where were Europe’s interests and where were our European objectives, the drive to find solutions to overcome this crisis? Last week’s Council talks and decisions in the national debates that followed have revealed a number of fears that appear to be underpinning the approach of certain member states to EU governance. What are we actually afraid of losing by saving Europe?

The decision announced over the weekend did not represent any big surprise. Most of the measures were talked about or leaked or were consistent with events at European level, notably the so-called “European semester” based on enhanced Articles 121 and 148 of the treaty and many of the steps that have been implemented already, a number below the radar. It is very consistent with the German Government’s demands, expressed as early as May last year in a speech by Chancellor Merkel. The German Administration has kept its view consistently ever since, and the decision at the weekend is just the formalisation of this proposal. Some commentators call this deal a “super-Maastricht”. It is about monitoring countries more closely, enforcing fiscal consolidation more pre-emptively rather than waiting for a country to be in serious trouble before acting, and providing more credible enforcement mechanisms.

The idea of a “monetary Schengen” was actually proposed for the first time in 1995 by Stark, then Secretary of State, to complement the Maastricht treaty for the countries joining the euro. This is a provision of the Lisbon treaty, which took almost a decade to come about. It allows a group of countries to make advances on European integration. This is a provision that has provided the legal basis for the Schengen agreement, signed in 1985 between five of the ten members of the European Economic Community. The Schengen agreement now includes 25 countries and has been included in the European treaty. Another option would be to go for an intergovernmental agreement, a weak form of internal treaty. This would be another way to avoid the full change of the treaty that requires the approval of the 27 member states of the EU.

I welcome the news that the President of the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, plans to hold a summit at the end of January, although he says it is to discuss the text of an intergovernmental treaty designed to boost economic growth in the eurozone. I note, however, the Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic and Hungary said as soon as yesterday that they would not join any treaty that includes tax harmonisation, a stance we would endorse. The Prime Ministers of Denmark and Sweden have said they must consult with their national parliaments. We are still in a period of flux when we hoped to be settled. I will wait to see the wording of the compact before I make any decision about the need for referendum. This House will have a role in scrutinising the wording, because this House has a role in scrutiny.

I want to note during this debate that a huge challenge for the EU today is the lack of confidence felt by its citizens, not just the markets. Restored consumer and investor confidence are essential for private and public-sector demand. To promote growth, Europe must break free of the austerity-growth deadlock. Job creation policies, especially for young people, must be the top political priority. Growth will only return if competitiveness and innovation can improve. SMEs and entrepreneurship, as well as social entrepreneurship and social innovation, for me, are the key drivers for a sustainable Europe.

Earlier this week the European Economic and Social Committee, of which I was a member for 12 years, held a conference on entrepreneurship. I was interested that in its findings; it called for the active support of the EU’s 20 million SMEs and for entrepreneurship in general. Its report said fewer than 10% of the 20 million businesses currently exploit the potential of the EU market. I wonder what the figure is for Ireland; we could perhaps exploit the market more. The president of the employer’s group in the European Economic and Social Committee, Mr. Henri Malosse, noted that with an extra 10% growth in the SME sector’s exploitation of this market, growth for the EU would increase by 1%.

I am disappointed there is not greater clarity. I will await the details of the compact but I am encouraged to see the active role Ireland is playing at an EU level. The Seanad has a role to play in scrutiny and in supporting Ireland’s role in the EU.

Order of Business, 8 December 2011

8 December 2011

After examination of the applications by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, three candidates were put forward by the Department, namely, Seán Aylward, Dr. Mary Rogan and Donncha O’Connell.

They are on the public record. The names have been reported in the news.

I will mention no more names. The nominations were considered by the Parliamentary Assembly but the Committee of Ministers, which comprises ambassadors from members states, did not choose the Assembly’s preferred candidate. This obsession with finding positions for former Secretaries General has to stop.

It went to four rounds of voting. Ireland’s reputation was deeply damaged.
I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to inform us of the instructions he gave to the Irish ambassador. Did Ireland disregard the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe? This is very unusual. I spoke to many people in the Council of Europe yesterday afternoon about this and was told that normally the first choice goes through on the nod, unless a member state in some way indicates that it wants to contradict that choice. A member state had to intervene. This is deeply distressing for Ireland.

Order of Business, 8 December 2011

It was reported in today’s The Irish Times that the former Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, Seán Aylward, was appointed to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. I am flabbergasted by this decision. The committee carries out periodic visits, at any time and without notice, to any place where persons may be deprived of their liberty. Its purpose is to prevent ill-treatment of individuals who are deprived of their liberty in Europe. According to its website, members of the committee are independent and impartial experts from a variety of backgrounds, including lawyers, medical doctors and specialists in prison and police matters. When the Government came into power it made a wise decision to publicly advertise for membership of this committee through the Department of Justice and Equality. The advertisement stated that members of the committee would be chosen from candidates of high moral character who are known for their competence in the field of human rights or professional experience in the areas covered by the convention.

After examination of the applications by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, three candidates were put forward by the Department, namely, Seán Aylward, Dr. Mary Rogan and Donncha O’Connell.

I will mention no more names. The nominations were considered by the Parliamentary Assembly but the Committee of Ministers, which comprises ambassadors from members states, did not choose the Assembly’s preferred candidate. This obsession with finding positions for former Secretaries General has to stop.

Address by President of the European Parliament

12th July 2011

I welcome President Buzek to Seanad Éireann. It is an honour for me to speak to somebody who is such a great defender of human rights and European values. I have heard him say that: “There is no ‘us’ and ‘you’. We can say loud and clear that. . . Europe belongs to us all”. In this time of recession, however, that feeling of “us” is fast diminishing. I am a committed European and believe we need more of Europe to get us out of this crisis. We need to get the Europe 2020 strategy back on track. However, President Buzek raised the multi-annual financial framework which includes a welcome proposal to set up an interparliamentary conference with national parliaments. That is of interest both to the European Parliament and to us in Seanad Éireann. President Buzek also said that Europe needs a strong and stable budget, but do we need to increase the European budget by 5% at this time? What message does that send to people? The multi-annual financial framework includes proposals to increase its own resources through revenue raising measures such as a financial transaction tax and a new VAT resource. In the current climate, is this really the best way to connect citizens and help engender that feeling of “us”?

I thank President Buzek for his solidarity.

European Affairs – Statements

22nd June 2011

I am pleased the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs is present for this discussion on enterprise, innovation and job creation. She referred to reputation. Colleagues in other member states have told me how impressed they are with our new Minister of State following her visits to the Continent. I am delighted she is helping to rebuild our reputation.

I echo the Minister of State’s words about Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn who has taken an active role since taking up her job. The Commissioner’s portfolio is critical for Ireland. It is good for us to be seen in this light.

As Senators will be aware, I have been a member of the European Economic and Social Committee for 12 years and vice chair of the European Movement Ireland. Clearly, therefore, issues of a European nature are crucially important to me. Part of our success will be working together with our European counterparts and other member states. However, if I may make a slightly negative point, in working on European semesters we have a missed opportunity to target smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. All too often, the focus has been fiscal consolidation and labour market and pension reforms without consideration being given to how we can achieve inclusive growth or putting in place growth drivers to enable the fiscal consolidation to take place. I am concerned, therefore, by certain elements of the course we are pursuing.

I propose to focus on two of the flagship initiatives under the 2020 strategy, namely, the new agenda for skills and jobs and the Youth on the Move initiative. The latter tackles the high levels of youth unemployment across the European Union. When one considers the variation in youth unemployment rates – in the Netherlands, my husband’s home country, it stands at 4.3% whereas in Spain it is currently 20.5% – one sees the challenge facing us. While each member state faces individual challenges, the European Union must meet collective challenges in countering youth unemployment. As a flagship initiative, I am pleased Youth on the Move has been given its own space. All too often, when the subject of youth is discussed, it is done purely in the employment sphere and associated matters such as entrepreneurship, training and education are overlooked. Youth on the Move claims it will unleash the potential of all young people. To achieve this objective we must give young people a solid basis in life.

The Minister of State referred to sanctions. All too often member states are willing to agree to lofty ideals but unwilling to set clear and measurable targets. As I indicated, unemployment rates vary considerably across member states although many of the challenges facing them are the same. We could set clear and measurable targets and indicators for each of the member states. If they were not met, some form of sanctions should be imposed. The rewards would clearly speak for themselves. With regard to young people, I have concerns that in dealing with our economic crisis focusing on reducing sovereign debt, we are reducing public investment in education and training, the very areas we will need to develop in the future. The teaching of languages is very important as are what are often called the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We need to focus on attracting more young people to take up those subjects. The early study and career guidance looking at the labour market needs and the skills of young people and providing entrepreneurship at all levels of education are also important. The Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme was launched a few years ago and we could encourage more young Irish people to get involved. This Erasmus programme will give a young person the opportunity to go to another member state and look at opportunities of entrepreneurship there and bring them back. The Minister referred to the growth in the German market and we need to be thinking in this way.

I was in China recently with the Chinese economic and social committee. We were looking at areas such as inclusive regional development and the green economy. We often talk about our young people leaving Ireland and we see them as being gone forever. I was impressed that China is encouraging its young people to leave, but come back after a year or two and bring that knowledge back. That is a message we should be giving to our young people. While the jobs are not here, that will not necessarily be the case for life. We should be looking at training opportunities and upskilling. We should be exposing them to innovative and creative markets, and entrepreneurship. I recognise the Every Job Counts: Youth Solutions initiative to encourage entrepreneurship launched recently by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

We can learn from some of our counterparts in other states about additional training opportunities for early school leavers and low-skilled workers. We have an issue of access to apprenticeships. We are often told that the best way a young boy can get an apprenticeship is to join the Army, which offers some of the best apprenticeships in the State. We should draw on some of that knowledge that it does so well and create apprenticeships to develop those skills.

The validation and certification of skills across educational settings is very important. This is true not just of the formal education setting but also in the informal education setting – looking at us buying into European skills passports, etc., so that when our young people go to other countries they are able to transfer that accreditation and qualification.

The big questions are on the spending programmes of the Europe 2020 strategy, such as research and development, and education. I am very conscious that we are lining up in Europe for a battle royale. They are likely to be reducing funding across all our multi-funding spending lines. I know that next week Commissioner Barroso will announce the financial framework beyond 2012 and I know the battle lines are being drawn up on this debate. It is a crucial time for the future of Europe and for Ireland. This is funding that has benefited Ireland greatly but how do we ensure we can maximise it? I am concerned as to how we, as Senators and others, can support Ireland’s role in tackling the funding crisis that will potentially loom as the funding reduces at a time when we should be investing more.

I am organising an event in September with representatives from several member states. I will contact the Minister of State in that regard. We are trying to bring experiences from different countries to try to use that knowledge and hopefully come up with some creative solutions and ideas that can be used in several member states.

EESC – Alcohol related harm – Opinion of the Rapporteur, Ms. van Turnhout

European Economic and Social Committee

Alcohol related harm

Brussels, 30 September 2009

of the
European Economic and Social Committee
How to make the EU strategy on alcohol related harm sustainable, long-term and multisectoral (Exploratory opinion)


Rapporteur: Ms van Turnhout

In a letter dated 18 December 2008, in the context of the forthcoming Swedish Presidency of the European Union, the Swedish Minister for European Affairs asked the European Economic and Social Committee to draft an exploratory opinion on the following subject:

How to make the EU strategy on alcohol related harm sustainable, long-term and multisectoral.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 1 September 2009. The rapporteur was Ms van Turnhout.

At its 456 plenary session, held on 30 September 2009 and 1 October 2009 (meeting of 30 September 2009), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 128 votes to 5 with 4 abstentions.


* *

1. Summary and recommendations

1.1 Drawn up in response to a request by the Swedish Presidency to the EESC, this exploratory Opinion focuses on how to make the EU strategy on alcohol related harm sustainable, long-term and multisectoral . The goal of the Swedish Presidency is to support the implementation of the horizontal EU alcohol strategy and the establishment of long-term preventive work at both EU and national level.

1.2 This Opinion builds on the previous EESC Opinion on alcohol related harm, which looked at five priority themes: protecting children; reducing alcohol related road accidents; preventing alcohol related harm among adults and in the workplace; information, education and raising awareness; and common evidence base .

1.3 The Opinion highlights the following four priorities of the Presidency:

– the impact of advertising and marketing on young people;
– the influence of price on the development of damage;
– children in focus – specifically foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and children in families; and
– the effects of harmful alcohol consumption on healthy and dignified ageing.

to achieve a comprehensive approach, all of the themes dealt with in both opinions and other relevant matters should be taken together.

1.4 Drinking patterns vary significantly across countries, but most consumers drink responsibly most of the time (see 3.2) . Having said that, the EESC is concerned that 15% of the EU adult population are estimated to drink at harmful levels on a regular basis, and that children are the most vulnerable to the harms caused by alcohol. Policy measures should be designed to reach those already drinking at harmful levels.

1.5 Alcohol marketing is one of the factors that increases the likelihood that children and adolescents will start to use alcohol, and will drink more if they are already using alcohol. Given this, the EESC calls for a reduction in the exposure of children to alcohol marketing.

1.6 Appropriately designed alcohol pricing policies can be effective levers in reducing alcohol related harm, particularly among low income and young people. The EESC believes that regulation governing the availability, distribution and promotion of alcohol is needed; self-regulation in this area is not enough.

1.7 To raise awareness about the risk of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the EESC supports national and EU level awareness-raising campaigns.

1.8 The EESC believes that more information is needed about the effects of harmful alcohol consumption on healthy and dignified ageing at an EU level.

1.9 The EESC recognises that alcohol policies should be comprehensive and include a variety of measures for which there is evidence of reducing harm.

2. Background

2.1 The European Union has competence and responsibility to address public health problems related to harmful and hazardous alcohol use on the basis of article 152 (1) of the Treaty , which states that Community action shall complement national policies.

2.2 Following the Council Recommendation of 2001 on the drinking of alcohol by young people , it invited the Commission to follow and assess developments and the measures taken, and to report back on the need for further actions.

2.3 In its Conclusions of June 2001 and of June 2004, the Commission was invited to put forward proposals for a comprehensive Community strategy aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm which would complement national policies .

2.4 In 2006, the Commission adopted the Communication: An EU Strategy to support member states in reducing alcohol related harm . It aims to “map actions” put in place by the Commission and Member States, and explains how the Commission can further supports and complements national health policies. The EESC believes that the Communication falls far short of a ‘comprehensive strategy’ as it does not provide a comprehensive and transparent analysis of all the relevant policy areas and of the difficulties some Member States have experienced in maintaining quality public health alcohol policies due to EU market rules . The Strategy also fails to acknowledge that alcohol is a psychoactive drug, a toxic substance when used to excess, and, for some, an addictive substance.

2.5 The European Court of Justice has repeatedly confirmed that reducing alcohol related harm is an important and valid public health goal, using measures deemed appropriate and in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity .

2.6 The EESC acknowledges the work performed by all relevant stakeholders within the European Alcohol and Health Forum since its launch in 2007. The EESC welcomes similar developments at local levels.

3. Overview of harmful effects

3.1 Globally, the European Union is the region where most alcohol is consumed, with 11 litres of pure alcohol consumed per person each year . Overall consumption declined between the 1970s and mid-1990s, since when it has remained relatively stable; however there are still differences between countries in terms of both consumption and harm, also in terms of the form the harm takes ; however, harmful drinking patterns remain significant .

3.2 Most consumers drink responsibly most of the time. However, the EESC is concerned that 55 million adults in the EU (15% of the adult population) are estimated to drink at harmful levels on a regular basis . Harmful alcohol consumption is estimated to be responsible for approximately 195 000 deaths a year in the EU due to accidents, liver disease, cancers and so forth. Harmful alcohol use is the third biggest cause of early death and illness in the EU .

3.3 The EESC believes that harmful alcohol consumption by individuals is not a problem that develops in isolation, but rather one that can have a variety of causes including poverty, social exclusion, family environment, and work-related stress.

3.4 While different cultural habits related to alcohol consumption across Europe exist, it can also be observed that different cultural habits related to harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption, including among children and adolescents, exist . The EESC urges the Commission and the Member States to take account of these national and local patterns when defining policies.

3.5 Children are particularly vulnerable to harms caused by alcohol. It is estimated that in the EU 5 to 9 million children in families are adversely affected by alcohol. Alcohol is a causal factor in 16% of cases of child abuse and neglect, and an estimated 60 000 underweight births each year are attributable to alcohol .

3.6 Harmful alcohol consumption can cause harm not only to the individual but also to third persons. Alcohol-related harm should also be addressed in the workplace, in the framework of health and safety regulations, which is primarily the responsibility of the employer. Workplace alcohol policies could help reduce alcohol-related accidents, absenteeism and increase working capacity. The EESC urges employers, trade unions, local authorities and other relevant organisations to closely cooperate and to undertake joint actions to reduce alcohol-related harm in workplaces.

3.7 Alcohol is an important commodity in the Europe creating jobs, generating revenue through taxes and contributing to the balance of trade. However, harmful alcohol drinking also affects the economy, due to increased health care and social costs, and loss of productivity. The cost of alcohol related harm to the EU’s economy was estimated at EUR 125 billion for 2003, equivalent to 1.3% of GDP .

4. The impact of advertising and marketing on young people

4.1 The EESC urges the Commission to acknowledge the WHO European Charter on Alcohol adopted by all EU Member States in 1995 and, in particular, the ethical principle that all children and adolescents have the right to grow up in an environment protected from the negative consequences of alcohol consumption and, to the extent possible, from the promotion of alcoholic beverages.

4.2 The EU Council recommendation urged Member States to establish effective mechanisms in the field of promotion, marketing and retailing and to ensure that alcohol products were not designed or promoted to appeal to children and adolescents.

4.3 Binge drinking by young adults (15-24 years) is a growing concern at EU and Member State level; 24% of drinkers in this age group reported binge drinking at least once a week in 2006 . Beer (40%) and spirits (30%) are the most often consumed alcoholic drinks among teenagers , followed by wine (13%), alcopops (11%) and cider (6%). Alcohol sales promotions such as “happy hour” and “two for one” promotions also increase alcohol consumption and the likelihood of binge drinking among youth . As a step forwards, the stricter enforcement of legal drinking age by authorities is required.

4.4 Alcohol advertising and marketing are influential in shaping young people’s attitudes to and perceptions of alcohol, and encouraging positive expectations of alcohol use amongst young people . A review of longitudinal studies by the Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum found “consistent evidence to demonstrate an impact of alcohol advertising on the uptake of drinking among non-drinking young people, and increased consumption among their drinking peers. This finding is all the more striking, given that only a small part of a total marketing strategy has been studied” .

4.5 The EESC is concerned that alcohol marketing attracts underage drinkers , and draws attention to consistent findings that exposure to television and sponsorship that contains alcohol predicts the onset of youth drinking and increased drinking .

4.6 The WHO Expert Committee considered that “voluntary systems do not prevent the kind of marketing which has an impact on younger people and that self-regulation seems to work only to the extent that there is a current and credible threat of regulation by government” .

4.7 Actors in the alcohol beverage chain have declared their willingness to be more proactive in enforcing regulatory and self-regulatory measures . They have a role in working together with the Member States to ensure their products are produced, distributed and marketed in a responsible manner, contributing to reduce alcohol related harm.

4.8 The Audiovisual Media Services Directive helps set minimum standards for alcohol advertising. It specifies that “[…]alcohol advertisements shall […] not be aimed specifically at minors, shall not link the consumption of alcohol to enhanced physical performance, social or sexual success and shall not claim that it is a stimulant, a sedative or a means of resolving personal conflicts” . The EESC believes that this Directive alone is not sufficient to fully protect children from alcohol marketing.

4.9 The EESC urges that a reduction in the exposure of children to alcohol products, advertising and promotions be stated as a specific objective by the Commission, and that tighter regulation in this area be introduced.

5. The influence of price on alcohol related harms

5.1 There is increasing pan-European interest in measures to combat alcohol related harms. Alcohol is an important commodity in Europe, creating jobs, generating revenue through taxes and contributing to the EU economy through trade. However, an estimated 15% drinks at harmful levels generating harm for individuals and societies. In 2003, the cost of alcohol misuse in the EU was estimated at EUR 125 billion, equivalent of 1.3% GDP .

5.2 Based on the RAND study, there is a trend across the EU towards more off-trade alcohol consumption, which tends to be cheaper than alcohol sold on-trade . However, it should be noted that the study focused only on off trade alcohol prices and did not compare off trade prices to on trade prices.

5.3 Studies show that alcohol became more affordable across the EU between 1996 and 2004, in some countries by more than 50% . Evidence shows that there is a positive relationship between alcohol affordability and alcohol consumption in the EU .

5.4 Young people are sensitive to alcohol price increases, which lead to reduced frequency of drinking among young people and, to smaller quantities drunk in each drinking event . However, other studies show that young people may turn to more harmful drinking patterns in response to price increase, e.g. pre-drinking where people consume cheaper alcohol at home before going out. This finding has important implications for alcohol policy in the EU, particularly given the increase in harmful youth drinking.

5.5 An estimated 3.8% of all global deaths and 4.6% of global disability-adjusted life-years are attributed to alcohol. There is a positive relationship between alcohol consumption and traffic injuries and traffic deaths . Alcohol is the sole cause of some diseases such as alcoholic liver disease and alcohol-induced pancreatitis, and is a contributory cause of other diseases and injuries (e.g. certain types of cancer, heart disease and strokes and liver cirrhosis) . Harmful alcohol consumption is a contributory factor for crime, violence and family deprivation, risky sexual behaviour and sexually transmitted disease .

5.6 It is estimated that across the EU heavy episodic drinking contributes to 2 000 homicides, 17 000 traffic deaths (or one in three of all traffic fatalities), 27 000 accidental deaths and 10 000 suicides .

5.7 Alcohol pricing policies can be effective levers in reducing alcohol related harms . The EESC nevertheless believes that pricing policy should be considered when developing strategies to address alcohol related harm in a long-term, sustainable and multi-sectoral way.

5.8 Alcohol policies should be comprehensive and include a variety of measures for which there is evidence of an impact in reducing harm, such as drink drive policies and primary health based interventions. The EESC recognises that no single measure can solve alcohol related harm.

5.9 The EESC believes that efficient enforcement of regulation governing the availability, distribution and promotion of alcohol is needed. Self-regulation in this area is part of the solution, but in itself not sufficient. Restrictions on sales below cost and on sales promotions should be possible without being trade restrictive or in contravention with EU law.

6. Children in focus – specifically foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and children in families

6.1 The destiny of Europe depends on a healthy and productive population. The evidence that a higher proportion of the disease burden from harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption is experienced by young people is therefore of grave concern to the EESC .
6.2 The Commission recognises that children have a right to effective protection against economic exploitation and all forms of abuse . The EESC strongly supports this position.

6.3 The EESC notes that harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption impacts negatively not only on the drinker but on people other than the drinker, especially in relation to accidents, injuries and violence. In families, the EESC recognises that the most vulnerable group at risk are children.

6.4 It is estimated that 5 to 9 million children in families are adversely affected by alcohol, that alcohol is a contributing factor in 16% of cases of child abuse and neglect, as well as contributing to an estimated 60 000 underweight births each year . Further negative effects for children include poverty and social exclusion, which can affect their health, education and well-being both now and in the future.

6.5 Domestic violence, a serious problem in many countries , is strongly linked to problems of heavy drinking by the perpetrator . While domestic violence can occur in the absence of alcohol, heavy drinking can contribute to violence among some people. A reduction in heavy drinking benefits the victims and perpetrators of violence, and the children living in such families.

6.6 Alcohol can affect children even before they are born. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) describes a continuum of permanent birth defects (physical, behavioural and cognitive) caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

6.7 Awareness about FASD and its effects is low. Disseminating evidence-based examples of preventive programmes to reduce alcohol harm during pregnancy is critical. The EESC supports the use of targeted EU and national Government campaigns to raise awareness about the risk of FASD.

7. The effects of harmful alcohol consumption on healthy and dignified ageing

7.1 Older people are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Specific problems include balance and risk of falling and the onset of health problems that can make older people more susceptible to alcohol. About a third of older people develop drinking problems for the first time in later life, often due to bereavement, physical ill-health, difficulty getting around and social isolation .

7.2 Harmful alcohol consumption can affect older people’s mental health in the form of: anxiety, depression and confusion.

7.3 Alcohol Use Disorders are common among older people, particularly among males who are socially isolated, and living alone . Problematic alcohol use is associated with widespread impairments in physical, psychological, social and cognitive health. Around 3% of those over 65 years suffer from these disorders , though many cases may go undetected as diagnostic criteria and screening are directed at younger adults. However, treating older people for alcohol problems is often easier than treating younger adults.

7.4 Alcohol can add to the effects of some medications, and reduce the effects of others. Raising awareness among care professionals, informal carers and older citizens of potential interaction between medication and alcohol is important.

7.5 The EESC believes that more needs to be done to address the wellbeing of the ageing population in the EU, including information about the effects of harmful alcohol consumption on healthy and dignified ageing at an EU level.

Brussels, 30 September 2009.

The President
of the
European Economic and Social Committee

Mario Sepi