Last January the government notified the EU of the provisions contained in the new Alcohol Bill which aims to reduce per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres by 2020 “… and to reduce the harms associated with alcohol”.
But before the deadline of April 24th had arrived, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain had raised objections while the EU Commission itself along with the Netherlands and Slovakia had contributed comments to the effect that the Irish proposals will create barriers to the free movement of goods in the EU.
“We are opposed to the provisions contained in the Irish Bill,” argues Paul Skehan, Director General of SpiritsEurope, an organisation that represents the interests of the spirits sector in 31 national associations as well as eight leading multinational companies.
In an editorial in the latest edition of its spiritsNEWS, Paul Skehan states, “We share the objective of reducing alcohol-related harm but we disagree on the idea that per capita alcohol consumption is the right target or measure of success in harm reduction.
“According to the latest revenue figures, alcohol consumption has already decreased by 25% over the last 15 years and the average adult alcohol consumption decreased again by 0.7% in 2015 compared with 2014.
“Underage drinking has also declined dramatically in Ireland for all age groups. This happened without any of the proposed measures which are disproportionate and will not be effective.
“Instead, they will have a series of negative consequences both for the Irish market and the EU single market, including closing the Irish market to new entrants (both national and foreign); reducing the range of product offers available to Irish consumers; adding costs and burdens on producers, advertisers, retailers and publishers.
“In addition” argues Paul Skehan, “despite the ECJ judgment on 23rd December 2015, the Irish government has proposed Minimum Unit Pricing, but without offering any compelling evidence to show that alternative measures could not have been proposed.
“Last but not least, the labelling and advertising provisions are extremely vague.”
According to a spokesman for SpiritsEurope, Ireland will have to answer the nine detailed opinions and comments made by NL/Commission and propose a new draft, taking their comments into consideration as much as possible or drop the proposal. An extra three months has been given with the extension of the standstill period to allow Ireland discuss with those countries that have sent detailed opinion and comments.
But Ireland could also choose to go it alone and ignore all of them, in which case the Commission could take legal action. The new Minister for Health has therefore a significant decision to make on this issue in the near future.