French booze-free January falls flat with Macron government

France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) is offered a bottle of wine as he meets residents of Baumes-de-VeniseIMAGE SOURCE,LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFPImage caption,
President Macron has said in the past he drinks wine twice a day
By Hugh SchofieldBBC News, París

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has been accused of caving in to the wine lobby by failing to lend his weight to an alcohol-free “Dry January”.Fifty specialists on addiction wrote an open letter this week, lamenting the lack of government support for the post-festivity no-drinks campaign.”Our confidence in the government to carry out a coherent and determined policy against alcoholism is seriously compromised,” the doctors wrote.Dry January came to France in 2020.In their letter to Le Monde newspaper, the doctors said the Défi de janvier (January Challenge) had become a popular social fixture since it was introduced from the UK, but its success had been achieved in the teeth of government indifference.Several ministers have indeed distanced themselves from the call for a teetotal month, saying they preferred to encourage moderation rather than an outright booze-fast.

Marc Fesneau, the agriculture minister, said the overall decline in French alcohol consumption – down 70% in the last half century, and down 7-10% last year alone – made the Dry January campaign irrelevant and intrusive.”I don’t think the French need to be given lessons by anyone. People are fed up with being told what to eat, what to drink, how to travel. There’s a way of life that also deserves respect,” he said.”I’d be very suspicious if I heard the government was telling people how to live their lives for a month,” said former health minister Aurélien Rousseau when asked in early December, before his resignation, about whether he was joining Dry January.

For critics these reactions are all signs that the government, taking its cue from President Macron, has decided it is more important not to offend the wine lobby than to promote good health.”We know full well that with this government, and above all with this president, the links with the alcohol lobby are particularly strong,” said addictologist Jean-Pierre Couteron.Supporters of Dry January say France is still Europe’s fourth largest consumer of alcohol, and that alcohol is responsible for more than 40,000 French deaths every year.

French President Emmanuel Macron drinks beer as he concludes a two-day government meeting in the northern German port city of Hamburg in October 2023IMAGE SOURCE,REUTERSImage caption,And they say that a campaign that enjoyed government financial and moral backing would reach far more people than the 16,000 who signed up in 2023.The allegation that the president personally discouraged support for Dry January is backed by his very public endorsement of alcohol in the past.In 2022 he was elected Personality of the Year by the Review of French Wines magazine after he said he drank wine twice every day, at lunch and at dinner.Last June he was filmed downing a bottle of http://kueceng.comCorona beer in one, in the changing room of the Stade Toulousain rugby team at the Stade de France – inviting accusations that he was encouraging binge drinking.With the wine industry bringing in €9bn (£7.7bn; $10bn) in foreign sales every year, the decision to champion French winemakers is certainly rational. But critics say drinking publicly is also partly a man-of-the-people act that the president puts on to counter the charge that he is “out-of-touch”.

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