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Minimum alcohol pricing ruled ‘incompatible’ with EU regulations

European Commission rules against Scottish Government's flagship policy on alcohol pricing.

Pricing: The Government is still to confirm what the mminimum price for a unit of alcohol would be.
© STV

Minimum pricing on alcohol is incompatible with European Union (EU) regulations and should not be introduced, according to the EU`s ruling body.

The European Commission (EC) said minimum pricing could restrict imports of foreign alcohol, putting international producers at a competitive disadvantage in Scotland.

While the EC recognises that Scotland has one of the fastest-growing rates of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the world, it said minimum pricing is a "disproportionate" response.

The Commission would prefer a wholesale increase in all alcohol prices through raising taxes, something outwith Holyrood`s control, or unspecified targeted measures in the specific Scottish regions where alcohol abuse is a problem rather than penalising the entire population.

The ruling specifically relates to the Scottish Government's plan for a 50p minimum unit price on alcohol but could have a cross-border impact on the UK Government`s new minimum pricing plans.

On Wednesday, Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans to tackle "drunken mayhem" on the streets of England and Wales by introducing a minimum price of 45p per unit.

The EC directive published today "invites" the authorities to "abstain from adopting the draft legislation at issue", specifically the draft Alcohol (Minimum Price per Unit) (Scotland) Order 2013.

"The case-law of the EU Court of Justice is unequivocal to the effect that national legislation imposing minimum pricing in respect of particular products falls within the ambit of the Article 34 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (prohibition on measures having the equivalent effect of impeding imports of products)," according to EC general secretary Catherine Day.

"All trading rules enacted by member states, which are capable of hindering directly or indirectly, actually or potentially, intra-EU trade are to be considered as measures having an effect equivalent to quantitative restrictions."

Ms Day continues: "The Commission is fully aware of the importance of reduction of alcohol consumption among the population as a whole, and in particular among the harmful drinkers.

"The Commission further acknowledges that the measure proposed is within member states' competence and, from a public health point of view, within the scope of the goals and objectives of the EU strategy to support member states in reducing alcohol-related harm.

"However, the measure at issue raises doubts as to its compatibility with the principle of proportionality."

Ms Day said an "increase of excise duty appears to be a better option to reach the goals sought" and suggests "other additional measures which the Scottish Government could adopt".

"For instance, according to information available, health-related harms are concentrated in particular areas of Scotland," she added.

"Measures which are specifically targeted at these areas are likely to be more effective than measures aimed at the total population."

However, she could not specify what these measures should be, or how they could be localised to the target areas.

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