European Court: minimum pricing illegal

22 October, 2009

Scottish government plans to introduce minimum prices on alcohol have been dealt a major blow today as the European Court ruled that minimum pricing is illegal.

Minimum prices are “not necessary in order to protect public health” and are a distortion of competition, according to the court's advocate general.

The ruling follows complaints to the court by the European Commission against Austria, Ireland and France for violation of EU rules in trying to impose national minimum pricing for tobacco.

The court’s advocate general has concluded that France and Austria are not able to impose minimum prices on health grounds. While Ireland put forward different justification, minimum pricing was also rejected on the grounds that it distorts competition.

The ruling cast fresh doubts on the legality of the Scottish government’s plan to impose minimum price controls on Scotch Whisky and other drinks.

The Scotch Whisky Association, which argues that such a regime is likely to breach both European Single Market rules and international trade law, welcomed the decision.

Chief executive Gavin Hewitt said: “This opinion is a comprehensive rejection of minimum pricing by the European Court of Justice and cannot simply be ignored by the Scottish government.

“Austria, Ireland and France have been told clearly today that minimum pricing is a breach of EU law. The Scottish government must recognise the legal situation and drop this proposal which would be hugely damaging to Scottish jobs.

“We are ready to work with the government to tackle alcohol misuse by other means, including discussing our proposed ban on sales below tax.”

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