Marketing Off-trade

EC challenges Scottish Minimum Pricing legislation

The European Commission has now challenged Scots First Minister Alex Salmond’s introduction of Minimum Pricing, telling the Scottish Government that legislation imposing a 50 pence Minimum Price per unit of alcohol must be withdrawn as it’s not ‘compatible’ with the EU Treaty.

The move follows objections to the imposition by France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria.

And the EU has ordered the British Government to take the Scottish proposals in hand as the whole of Britain is a member of State of the EU.

This development is also likely to extinguish any hopes that the British PM David Cameron had to introduce similar legislation to England and Wales after monitoring the situation in Scotland.

Following months of discussion, the EC has lodged a ‘detailed opinion’ on the proposal. This detailed opinion is understood to focus on Article 34 of the EU Treaty relating to imports and prohibiting ‘quantitative restrictions and all measures having equivalent effect’ between member states.

Instead, a spokesman for the EC suggested raising excise duties to combat alcohol abuse.

“It is now abundantly clear that plans for minimum unit pricing in Scotland have hit a wall of opposition in Europe,” commented the UK Wine & Spirit Trade Association’s Chief Executive Miles Beale.

But Article 36 of the same Treaty permits a defence of ‘public health’ which the Scottish Government may attempt by way of an appeal.

However within Scotland itself the Scottish parliament is facing opposition from its own Scotch Whiskey Association claiming that in addition to being in breach of EU Treaty obligations, the introduction of any Minimum Price legislation exceeds Scottish parliamentary powers. An initial hearing is due on October 23rd and the Scottish Parliament intends fighting any legal challenges.

The UK Government’s own plans for Minimum Pricing are due to enter a 12-week consultation period over the next few weeks which is expected to be finished by Christmas.

In the meantime, Scotland’s Advocate General has claimed that the UK Government will support any court challenge to the Scottish Parliament’s introduction of minimum pricing.

In an address to a legal conference at Edinburgh University recently Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC stated that, “It would be open to the UK Government to sit on the sidelines and watch while the Scottish Government seeks to fend off these challenges. But we will not do that.

“When the case is first heard in the Court of Session later this month the UK Government will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Scottish Government, seeking to support and complement the arguments that they present and in particular, ensure that the court has the benefit of the UK Government’s experience and expertise in EU law.”

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