Scotland's system setting a minimum price for a 'wee dram' breaks EU law
Luxembourg - AFP
The EU's top court ruled Wednesday that Scotland's minimum price system for alcohol, designed to stop people "drinking themselves to death," was contrary to EU law.
The European Court of Justice said the measure violated the bloc's single market rules while its objective of reducing alcohol intake would be better achieved by tax measures.
The Scottish government introduced the system in 2012 to tackle what it said was "Scotland's unhealthy relationship with alcohol" and the toll it was taking, especially among the young.
The ECJ ruling, made in response to a request by a Scottish court, was closely focused on the impact the system has on single market rules.
"The court... considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market," the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement.
Cheaper drinks imported from other member states lose their competitive edge in the Scottish market as a result, it said.
"That is sufficient reason to conclude that the measure constitutes an obstacle to the free movement of goods," it said, citing a core EU principle.
In contrast, increasing taxes "is liable to be less restrictive than a measure imposing a minimum price per unit since, unlike where there is a minimum price, traders retain the freedom to determine their selling prices."
On that basis, taxation rather than a minimum price system would better serve the government's efforts to cut alcohol consumption.
The Scottish Whisky Association and other producers challenged the law in Scotland and Wednesday's ruling was welcomed by the industry.
SpiritsEUROPE, which was one of the parties to the case in Scotland, said it was "an early Christmas present for moderate drinkers."
The ruling showed the minimum price system was a barrier to trade and therefore illegal, it said, urging all sides to focus on tackling the problem by working together.