Spain, Italy, Portugal and France have joined Bulgaria in formally objecting to the Scottish government's legislation introducing minimum unit pricing on alcohol.
‘This ill-targeted and misguided policy': Scotch Whisky Association
Earlier this month Bulgaria objected to the European Commission about the plans for a minimum price of £0.50 per unit of alcohol, which were approved by the Scottish parliament in April this year.
Now the four other countries, and the European Commission, have lodged ‘detailed formal opinions’, a move which ensures that the European Commission complaints process, due to end today, is now extended until the end of the year.
As opposition mounts to the Scottish plans, the UK Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) is urging government ministers to ensure a 12-week consultation on the UK Government’s own plans for minimum unit pricing (MUP), which Prime Minister David Cameron supports.
The Commission will now also be obliged to seek a justification by the UK Government of the Scottish legislation.
The WSTA says a consultation on UK Government plans for MUP in England and Wales is due to start in the coming weeks, ‘amid suggestions that it might be truncated, to finish before Christmas – the busiest time of year for the drinks industry.’
WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said, ‘It is now abundantly clear that plans for minimum unit pricing in Scotland have hit a wall of opposition in Europe. Whilst the legality of the Scottish government’s proposals is in question any notion of a short consultation here is totally inappropriate.’
Meanwhile a separate judicial review of the Scottish legislation will take place at the court of session in Edinburgh at the end of next month.
The action was brought in July by the Scotch Whisky Association, whose members account for 95% of all Scotch whisky sold worldwide, the European Spirits Organisation (CEPS) and Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV), the European wine body.
SWA chief executive Gavin Hewitt said, ‘Despite warnings that minimum pricing of alcohol would be illegal, the Scottish Government has pressed ahead with its ill-targeted policy and misguided legislation. The Scotch Whisky industry is left with no option but to oppose the legislation in Europe and through the Scottish Courts.’
José Ramón Fernandez, secretary general of CEEV said, ‘We believe the setting of a minimum price contravenes rules governing the wine common market organisation across the EU. It will also act as a discriminatory barrier to trade for imported wines from companies which enjoy a competitive lower cost base, incompatible with EU and international trade law.’
At the same time, the charity Alcohol Focus Scotland has won the right to submit evidence to the judicial review on the harm alcohol can do and the positive impact that unit pricing can have on public health.
Drinks manufacturers argue there is no such evidence and have opposed the charity’s appeal to be allowed to intervene.
Written by Adam Lechmere