Europe objects to Holyrood's minimum pricing of alcohol

Countries in the European Union object to the Scottish government's minimum pricing for alcohol policy

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Questions have been raised over whether Scottish government plans to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol are compatible with European law.

The measure was passed by MSPs earlier this year but led to a formal complaint by the Scotch Whisky Association.

Five EU countries have now raised concerns that the proposal may infringe free trade rules.

The Scottish government said it remained confident the reform was compatible with EU law.

However, the Scotch Whisky Association said the plans infringed European competition treaties.

The countries which appeared to back the group are France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria, all of which are significant wine producers.

Each have lodged "detailed opinions" against the plans to the European Commission. Another eight counties are said to have "made comments".

'No surprise'

In a statement, the EU Commission said the content was confidential but "what we can say is we have a problem with the compatibility of minimum pricing plans under community law".

The Scottish government said it was not surprised that there had been objections.

Start Quote

This is clearly about trade across Europe and I'm not surprised so many countries have raised concerns”

End Quote Campbell Evans Scotch Whisky Association

Health Secretary Alex Neil said: "The European Commission is in favour of addressing alcohol abuse and have asked us to consider their points, which we will.

"We are confident that we can demonstrate that minimum pricing is justified on the basis of public health and social grounds and I will continue to press the case for minimum pricing in the strongest possible terms.

"We will respond to the EC by the deadline of 27 December."

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said it was "extremely disappointing" the Scottish government had continued to insist minimum pricing was legally competent when it seems not to be the case.

He added: "We want minimum pricing to work, and we gave our support on the condition it would be legally sound and that it could be dropped in future years if it wasn't working.

"We await to see what will happen now, but any legal challenge in the European courts could be both costly to Holyrood and cause significant delays. But it is better to address these legal issues now than several years down the line."

Campbell Evans, of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "For 30 years the European Court has said minimum pricing is illegal, we are disappointed it has gone this far.

"We would like to have worked with the government to tackle alcohol misuse, and hopefully we will work together in partnership.

"This is clearly about trade across Europe and I'm not surprised so many countries have raised concerns."

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