Scotland’s Booze Pricing|May Break EU Rules

     (CN) – Scotland’s plan to curb problem drinking by pricing liquor based on its alcohol content may violate the EU’s commerce rules, a European Court of Justice adviser said Thursday.
     In 2012, the Scottish parliament proposed legislation setting a minimum retail price for all alcoholic beverages in hopes of curbing alcoholism and binge drinking among Scots. Lawmakers codified the law a year later by setting the minimum price at about 76 cents per unit of pure alcohol the beverage contains.
     The Scotch Whisky Association and others in the industry challenged the legislation as incompatible with EU law, since it could harm trade between Scottish producers and other member states and distort competition in the industry.
     Additionally, the producers argued that EU law already requires that wine be priced by market forces – forces that would be undermined by Scotland’s pricing regime. The producers said Scottish lawmakers could achieve their goal of fighting alcoholism by taxing liquor instead of regulating its minimum selling price.
     The Scottish Court of Session referred the case to the European Court of Justice for its opinion on whether Scotland’s minimum pricing scheme works under EU law.
     In a 34-page advisory opinion for the EU high court, Advocate General Yves Bot agreed that the proposed legislation risks violating the EU constitution’s promise of free movement of goods – a violation that could only be justified if Scotland had no other way to achieve its public-health goal.
     Bot also agreed with the producers that raising the tax on alcohol is a viable alternative and said the Scottish government would have to prove doing so would not curb alcoholism and binge drinking.
     “While it is ultimately for the national court to identify the precise objectives of the measure in question, to examine the merits and disadvantages of an ‘increased taxation’ measure and to ascertain whether that alternative presents a better cost-benefit outcome than the setting of a minimum price, I feel that, having regard to the principle of proportionality, it is difficult to justify the rules at issue, which appear to me to be less consistent and effective than an ‘increased taxation’ measure and may even be perceived as being discriminatory,” Bot wrote.
     The adviser’s opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which has begun its own deliberations in the case.
     Earlier this year, Scotland’s health ministry said it was considering raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 to combat the rise in binge drinking among young people. The Scottish government has also banned “buy-one-get-one” deals on alcohol and reduced the legal alcohol limit for drunken driving from .08 to .05.
     This past April, the Bank of Scotland said the DUI law – which took effect in December 2014 – was already so successful it was damaging economic growth in the private sector.

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