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Speech of the Minister of Health Zofija Mazej Kukovič at the 3rd European conference on alcohol policies – Building Capacity for Action

Honourable Minister Bernat Soria, dear Colleague Ministers from Sweden and Estonia and the regional minister of Catalonia, Regional Director of the World Health Organisation, Director-General of the Public Health and Consumers Directorate of the European Commission, Mayor of the City of Barcelona, Distinguished Guests, Representatives of Member States and Regions, Participants of the Conference.

It is my utmost pleasure to have this opportunity to address you at the European conference on alcohol policy - "Building Capacity for Action". Allow me to thank the Spanish Government, in particular the Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs of Spain, who kindly enabled us to place such an important event of the Slovenian Presidency into the magnificent environment of the city of Barcelona. My sincere thanks also goes to the regional Government of Catalonia and the Mayor of Barcelona for their warm welcome and hospitality and all the efforts invested into the preparation of the Conference. The Slovenians hold fond memories of Barcelona as on the 1992 Olympic Games, - the first Olympics where Slovenia participated after its independency - our rowing team - the later Olympic champions - began their series of successes by winning two bronze medals.

Holding a presidency is an immense honour for Slovenia, in particular because Slovenia is the first among the new Member States who joined the EU in May 2004 to hold this position. One of the key topics of this programme is, without any doubt, health of the EU citizens and the related provision of conditions which will enable everyone to access health promotion programmes and to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Slovenia has chosen cancer control to be the main topic of her Presidency. One out of three EU citizens will suffer from cancer and one in four will die of this disease. Several types of cancer are directly linked to the factors of the risky lifestyle.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Cancer is merely one of chronic non-communicable diseases which are linked to life style and whose growing incidence we are facing in the developed as well as developing countries. A strong message was send from the Conference "The Burden of Cancer - How Can it be Reduced?", held in Brdo, Slovenia, in February this year, by experts and high representatives of the Member States, the European Commission and the World Health Organisation: cancer and other chronic diseases can be prevented, and a number of effective and cost-effective strategies in the field of prevention have already been adopted in the past – it is high time we commence with their consistent implementation.

The Conference "Cross-Sectoral Policies for Healthy Nutrition and Physical Activity" held in Radenci at the beginning of March this year, Slovenia specifically exposed the necessity of cross-sectoral cooperation to provide healthy nutrition and physical activity and subsequently prevent the incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases. Another important risk factor for cancer and numerous other chronic diseases and injuries is alcohol. Harmful alcohol consumption unfortunately, in addition to having a direct impact on drinkers, also poses a threat to others. Drink-driving and working under the influence of alcohol; drinking during pregnancy; and violence related to alcohol consumption too often causes early death of mostly young people, invalidity, and social deprivation.

Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption causes more than 7 per cent of early morbidity and mortality in our countries, which represents an enormous economic burden to our society. Estimated annual costs at the EU level resulting from harmful use of alcohol have been estimated to EUR 125 billion, or 1.3 percent of the gross national product.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Enough evidence has been collected for us to act.

The 2001 WHO European Ministerial Conference on Young People and Alcohol in Stockholm, hosted by the Swedish government, represents an important milestone in the fight against alcohol-related harm. The Conference resulted in the Declaration on Young People and Alcohol in which it is made clear that the problem of harmful alcohol consumption can not only be attributed to the mid- and older generations and alcohol addiction, but it is a major public health problem and it can not only be controlled by education and activities within the health sector.

In the same year the Council of the EU adopted a Recommendation on the drinking of alcohol by young people, in particular children and adolescents, and invited the Commission to follow-up, assess and monitor developments and the measures taken. The Council called on the Commission to prepare a strategy aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm to complement national policies. In October 2006 the Commission adopted the EU alcohol strategy to support Member States. The Strategy identifies five priority areas to reduce harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption with arguments for action and examples of good practices. In addition, the 55th Regional Committee in 2005 approved the Framework strategy for alcohol policy in the WHO European Region, which represents a good basis for planning action in the European region.

So, once again: the goals are clear, we know what is effective and what is not. Now is the time for action.

The title of the conference "Building Capacity for Action" speaks for itself. The Conference is a part of wider efforts of various partners who strive - under the European project Building Capacity led by the Institute of Public Health of the Republic of Slovenia and supported by the European Commission - to mobilise political, expert and the general public to implement important commitments adopted in the recent years.

This would require political will, enough resources and appropriate tools. It would also require the involvement of all potential partners, especially the civil society. To know that we are on the right track we would need to better evaluate our activities for their effectiveness.

EU plays an important role because there are some things that will be done better if we work together. In terms of capacity building we should exchange experiences, know-how and good practices among Member States.

Si.nergy is the slogan of the Slovenian Presidency - synergy not only in planning but also in action. Within this context we wish to encourage the exchange of good practices during the time of our presidency.

I am convinced that the Conference will enable the exchange of experiences and good practices among the countries and regions as well as among us - politicians, experts, representatives of civil society and private sector, and among everyone striving to reduce alcohol related harm. I will share the key messages of the conference with my Colleagues Ministers at the informal meeting in mid April and will report on the results at EPSCO Council in June.

Success can only be achieved if we will complement each other's work.


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Date: 04.04.2008