Today, 3rd September 2015, the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) Yves Bot, presented his opinion on the Scottish Government’s legislation to introduce a Minimum Unit Price (MUP) for alcohol, which states that it does not contravene European law, provided it meets the objective of protecting public health. The recommendation brings the Scottish Government a step closer to implementing the measure, which was passed over three years ago.
The Advocate General’s conclusion includes:
- That the Common Agricultural Policy does not preclude national rules which prescribe a minimum retail price for wines according to the quantity of alcohol in the product sold, provided that those rules are justified by the objectives of the protection of human health, and in particular the objective of combating alcohol abuse, and do not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve that objective.
- That it is for the national court to decide whether the means chosen are appropriate for the attainment of the objective pursued and that, in making that choice, the Member State did not exceed its discretion, and that it has taken into account the extent to which that measure impedes the free movement of goods when it is compared with alternative measures that would enable the same objective to be attained and when all the interests involved are weighed up.
Commenting on the Advocate General's opinion, Katherine Brown, Director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said: "This brings us one step closer to a victory for public health. It can be quite clearly demonstrated that taxation alone cannot achieve the same effect as minimum unit pricing, partly because the EU tax rules prohibit member states from taxing all alcoholic drinks by strength. The Scottish Government acknowledged that minimum pricing was the best way they could target the cheapest alcohol that causes the most harm to individuals, families and communities. It is disgraceful that multinational alcohol producers were able to block a government from introducing a policy intended to save lives. However we are confident that in the end public health will triumph over big business in this case."
MUP is a targeted intervention, and would achieve greater results on preventing the sale of very cheap alcohol than compared with an alternative option of increasing the duties of alcohol beverages.
The figure below demonstrates how introducing a 50p MUP will achieve such a result:
The Advocate General’s Opinion precedes the full judgement of the ECJ on the case later this year, after which the case will be referred back to the Scottish court. The Advocate General’s opinion marks a significant stage in the Scottish Government’s battle to introduce the legislation as a ground- breaking measure to protect public health, which is supported by health bodies across Europe and several national governments.
For more information please contact:
Research & Information Officer
Institute of Alcohol Studies
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