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Trends in alcohol consumption in Europe continue their positive course

Guest contributor



Over recent months, we have seen very welcome findings on drinking behaviours released by leading health authorities across Europe, particularly with regards to the decline in underage drinking. This contrasts sharply with misleading coverage which often suggests that overall consumption is dangerously on the increase, in particular since the pandemic started, writes spiritsEurope Director General Ulrich Adam.

The World Health Organization’s 2019 status report showed that average alcohol consumption in Europe fell between 2010 and 2016, and that there were particular decreases in average consumption and drinking rates among young people, as well as an 11% decrease in the prevalence of ‘heavy episodic drinking.’ 

This was not the only sign that positive changes are taking place across Europe: the latest ESPAD (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) report shows steady decreases in lifetime alcohol consumption among young people between 1995 and 2019 in the EU.

Compared to 2003, overall alcohol consumption fell by 22% and declined in nearly all Member States. Heavy episodic drinking fell by 19%, and 86% of the respondents reported never being drunk in the past month. 

We have just published a useful summary of this ESPAD survey highlighting the key findings. But these statistics do not cover the period since the arrival of Covid-19.

So how has the pandemic affected overall consumption trends?

Over the last year, concerns have been raised about how Covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns could threaten recent progress.

Thankfully, far from giving rise to more irresponsibility, Covid has not altered the positive long-term trends when it comes to alcohol consumption and misuse. In fact, all the indications are that people have, overall, been drinking much less. Sensationalist reports focused on higher sales in some retail outlets ignored the dramatic declines in sales in bars and restaurants, where most drinking traditionally occurs.

For example, data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis showed significant declines in alcohol consumption during the pandemic in most markets including across Europe. 

A growing body of independent evidence also points to a broader decline in all other social settings over the last year. 

A YouGov survey in 2020 – involving more than 11,000 people across a number of countries including France, Germany and the UK – found that 84% of drinkers were not consuming more alcohol than they had been before the lockdown, and more than one in three had cut down on their drinking or quit entirely. 

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, new figures from the Trimbos Institute showed that 49% of people aged 16-35 cut down on their drinking during the first lockdown compared to the same period in 2019, while another 23% consumed the same amount.

Simply put, regardless of those misleading headlines, all of the evidence points to a continuation of the long-term downward trajectory in both alcohol consumption and misuse. 

Of course, that does not mean that there is not more work to be done – far from it. 

There is no acceptable level of underage drinking, just like there is no acceptable level of the sort of heavy drinking which is detrimental to health. As an industry and as a society, we need to reflect on what we have accomplished, and the work that still lies ahead. 

The consistent progress which societies in Europe have made in reducing alcohol-related harm in recent years – and the continuation of this progress during the lockdowns – shows that we are on the right track and that the long-term positive trends are set to continue, as we start to reopen vital sectors of our economies.

One thing which millions of Europeans are looking forward to is the ability to enjoy a drink in bars and restaurants once again, safely, socially, and responsibly. 

spiritsEUROPE will continue to work with our partners in the hospitality sector to ensure that that reopening is achieved safely, and so that we can all continue to maintain the positive course towards a more moderate drinking culture across the EU.


Commission publishes public consultation on the taxation of cross-border alcohol and tobacco purchases in the EU

EU Reporter Correspondent



The Commission has launched a public consultation on the taxation of cross-border alcohol and tobacco purchases in the EU. Under current rules, excise duty on alcohol and tobacco bought by a private individual for their own use and transported to another EU country is only paid in the country where the goods were bought. This is the case even if they bring these goods into another member state.

For both alcohol and tobacco products, the misuse of cross-border shopping rules for private individuals is a source of concern for several EU countries due to lost revenues and the negative impact on the effectiveness of national public health policies. The current EU rules of cross-border shopping of alcohol beverages and tobacco products by private individuals are being reviewed to ensure that they remain fit for purpose to balance the objectives of public revenues and health protection.

This is particularly important in the context of the European Action Plan against Cancer since taxation plays a pivotal role in reducing alcohol and tobacco consumption, in particular when it comes to acting as a deterrent to stop young people from smoking and abusing alcohol. The public consultation aims to ensure that all relevant stakeholders have an opportunity to express their views on the current rules and how they might work in the future. It includes questions on the effects of the current system, along with possible changes. The public consultation is available here and remains open until 23 April 2021.

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Excise duties: Commission welcomes agreement on rules governing alcohol

EU Reporter Correspondent



The Commission has welcomed the 30 July agreement reached in the Council on the new rules governing excise duties on alcohol within the EU. This agreement paves the way for a better business environment and reduced costs for small alcohol-producing businesses. The agreed new rules will ensure that small and artisan alcohol producers have access to a new EU-wide certification system confirming their access to lower excise duty rates across the Union.

This will have a positive impact on consumers, which will benefit from a crackdown on the illegal use of tax-free denatured alcohol to make counterfeit drinks. There will also be an increase in the threshold for lower strength beer to which reduced rates may apply to encourage brewers to produce beverages with a lower alcohol content.

Following the agreement, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: "Today's agreement is a welcome move towards a more modern and fairer tax regime for alcohol which also supports our fight against fraud.”

New rules will be applicable from 1 January 2022. The Commission will monitor the introduction of an excise duty or reduced excise rates for private production of ethyl alcohol and will report to the Council on this measure.

A full press release is available here

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#spiritsEurope launches interactive map of spirits with geographical indications (GIs)

EU Reporter Correspondent



A new interactive map geolocating all of Europe’s 240 GI spirits has been launched, showing the great diversity, rich cultural heritage, and economic importance of these products for communities all across Europe.

Launching the map, spiritsEUROPE Director General Ulrich Adam said: “The map shows where exactly in Europe the 240 different GI spirits are from. Products like Cognac, Irish Whiskey and Polish Vodka are among our most well-known, yet the list is so much longer! For the first time today, we are – quite literally – putting all of these GI spirits on the map. I invite you to explore this exciting new tool, and to discover more about the different regions and passionate people producing this extraordinarily wide range of quality spirits.”

European spirits with protections known as Geographical Indications (GIs) are both popular at home and hugely appreciated worldwide: domestic sales amounted to more than €10 billion in 2017, while GI spirits made up two thirds of total European spirits exports worth €12.5bn last year.  As such, the economic contribution of GI spirits to local communities is substantial, and never more so as Europe begins to re-open from lockdowns.

Organization for an International Geographical Indications Network (oriGIn) EU Representative Mathilde Chareyron said: “This is a great way to visualize the cultural, economic and social importance of Geographical Indications in the European Union. It will allow citizens to better understand the success of the EU’s GI policy and the key contribution that GIs make to local development. This is a valuable addition to the work of OriGIn in ensuring better protection and promotion of geographical indications.”

A study published by the European Commission in April of this year found that spirits with geographical indications sell for over two and a half times more than products without the protection, underlining the high quality and reputation that consumers attach to GI products.

Another important way in which spirits, and GI spirits in particular, contribute to local development is spirits tourism. From family-owned micro-distilleries to some of the world’s biggest and best-known brands, distilleries across Europe attract millions of visitors every year from across the globe. In 2019, two million people visited Scotch Whisky distilleries, almost two million tourists visited French distilleries, while Irish distilleries welcomed more than one million visitors.

Calling for support for Europe’s distillers, Ulrich Adam added: “Distillers across Europe can and will play their part in driving the European recovery after the devasting pandemic, but they need support. We need the European Commission to continue to champion the protection of GIs in trade discussions. With promotion and the right supports, distillers will once again drive exports and create jobs and growth in Europe”.

Spirits GIs Map

·        spiritsEUROPE proudly represents one of Europe’s most valuable agri-food export sectors and, with it, the interests of 31 associations of spirits producers as well as 10 leading multinational companies. More information can be found here.

·        oriGIn - The Organization for an International Geographical Indications Network - oriGIn - is a non-for-profit Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Geneva. Established in 2003, origin is today a truly global alliance of Geographical Indications (GIs) from a large variety of sectors, representing some 500 associations of producers and other GI-related institutions from 40 countries.

·        EU database of GIs registered in Europe: the e-ambrosia database

·        List and description of the spirit drinks categories.

·        Study on economic value of EU quality schemes, geographical indications (GIs) and traditional specialities guaranteed (TSGs) – April 2020. Available here.

·        More information on spirits tourism is available here.


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