Minimum alcohol pricing: Five countries oppose Scottish drink plan

The Scotland government has brought forward plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol of 50p a unit.

Legal opinions and comment from wine producing countries across the EU have been lodged with the European Commission. The BBC has obtained the documents and a summary of the positions is set out below.

How do wine producing EU countries view Scottish plans for minimum alcohol pricing?

Country Submission extracts

Information supplied by the European Commission. Italy's opinion obtained separately.

Austria

"Austria wishes to point out...that...the minimum price for cigarettes in Austria was also abolished by the European Court of Justice in 2010 on account of its incompatibility with EU law."

Although it appears to be welcome from a health policy point of view, minimum pricing on its own is unlikely to resolve alcohol problems.

Austria is therefore advocating an integrated approach "by providing timely clarification and information, without establishing rigid legal provisions in this regard..."

Read the full comment.

Bulgaria

"These legislative changes will create many obstacles to trade for Bulgarian wine and spirit producers.

"The products that will be particularly affected are those in the lowest price bracket, into which Bulgarian wines fall."

The policy is "a breach of the principle of free trade and could be interpreted as a hindrance to the 'free movement of goods'."

Read the full opinion.

Denmark

"A measure of this nature must, in addition to being justified...also be non-discriminatory, necessary and proportionate."

The Scottish authorities are "requested to explain the conformity of the proposal" with Article 34.

The proposal "will also result in greater difficulties for the most efficient producers of alcoholic beverages to gain market share by competing on price".

Read the full comment.

France

Minimum pricing "poses the risk of a major impact on sales, causing an imbalance in the market for low-priced wines and spirits".

The same objectives could "be attained by way or other measures which are less restrictive on trade".

"Given the risk of distortion from the changes entailed by the Scottish bill, the French wine and spirits sector could suffer serious losses."

If Scotland presses ahead, other countries who import EU wine and spirits may take similar measures and "the effect would be disastrous on the balance of European trade".

Read the full opinion.

Germany

"In principle, Germany supports alcoholism-prevention measures..." but minimum pricing may be considered as having "equivalent effect to a quantitative restriction on imports, which is prohibited by EU legislation" and "may deprive foreign economic operators of a competitive advantage..."

Admittedly Article 36 states that restrictions on free trade may be allowed if they are "justified on grounds of public morality, public policy or public security for the protection of health and life".

This may be the case but if so the policy "would have to be the least restrictive means of achieving the objective".

"Germany requests that the UK take these considerations into account and not adopt measures that infringe European law..."

Read the full comment.

Ireland

"Ireland expresses its support" for minimum pricing and "is currently engaged in preparing proposals to develop" a similar policy.

It is in favour because of the "enormous harm that the misuse of alcohol is doing to Irish society".

Ireland is "doubtful" that Article 34 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union applies to minimum pricing but if it does have to be justified under Article 36 of the Treaty "there are strong grounds to declare that it passes the proportionality test in this Article".

"Ireland's strong view is that minimum pricing is a proportional (CHECK) measure"

Read the full comment.

Italy

Fixing a minimum price "would be inequitable and discriminatory" and "is absolutely not justified as a health protection measure which could take advantage of derogation from Community rules".

A minimum selling price "affects free movement and has the effect of altering competition" between domestic and foreign producers and between producers of the same categories of product.

"In view of the importance of the United Kingdom market for Italian wine products, great concern is caused by setting a minimum price."

The policy "represents a serious interference in the economic activities of all operators involved in the food sector".

Therefore because of the "overall negative impact and the effect of distorting competition... Italy expresses its firm opposition" to the plans.

Read the full opinion.

Netherlands

"The principle of free movement of goods is not an a priori hindrance" to minimum pricing, however European Court of Justice case law should be taken into account.

"In light of such case law the Netherlands is calling for a guarantee" that the policy will "not result in arbitrary discrimination or disguised forms of trade restrictions".

Read the full comment.

Poland

Minimum pricing will "place Scottish-made products in a privileged position, will restrict the mechanisms of free competition and will promote the development of illegal production and sale of cheaper alcohol".

It "suppresses price competition on the import market...which will deprive importers of the benefits of the principle of free pricing" and will "constitute a barrier to the free flow of goods" in breach of Article 34 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union.

Prices will rise in "73% of the alcoholic drinks market and 77% of the retail beer market".

"It is very doubtful that this measure will effectively impact alcohol consumption and restrict its harmful consequences."

"More effective and less restrictive measures are available."

"It is clear that the negative consequences and threats" of the policy "significantly outweigh the benefits..."

Read the full comment.

Portugal

The proposal will "have a dramatic impact" on Portugal's export market to the UK "causing grave consequences to Portuguese companies and the sector in general".

It would "raise the price of wine exports between 10% and 60% for certain Portuguese top-selling brands in the UK market whose prices are below the minimum price, thus making the sale of those Portuguese wines more expensive".

It is "an unjustified and disproportionate violation of the proper functioning of the internal market".

Read the full opinion.

Romania

"Romania does not support the implementation of this measure as it is considered to be restrictive..."

It would "artificially distort the market competitiveness of alcoholic beverages..." and would "disrupt the market by eliminating the principles of transparency, fair competition and free movement of goods..."

Read the full comment.

Spain

"...a system for setting minimum prices may be detrimental to the marketing of imported products."

"...the establishment of a minimum price impacts the competitiveness of these products with a view to excluding them from the market, and this effect will mainly concern products imported from other Member States."

"...the measure would be contrary to the free movement of goods and would contravene Article 34 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (since it) cannot be justified on the grounds of public interest..."

Read the full opinion.

Position of the European Commission

Member states are not prohibited from setting minimum retail prices for alcoholic beverages but such a measure must comply with EU law.

Minimum pricing could be justified on the basis of Article 36 if there was an overriding requirement in the public interest but only if Scotland could prove that it was necessary and proportionate.

Increasing alcohol taxation is probably a "more suitable measure" in terms of free trade and "a better option" in terms of the policy goals.

The Commission concludes that minimum pricing "may create obstacles to the free movement of goods within the internal market contrary to article 34 TFEU and appears to be disproportionate under article 36 TFEU. The UK authorities are invited to abstain from adopting the draft legislation at issue".

Read a summary of the opinion.

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