Is there a future for Minimum Unit Pricing in Europe?

Is there a future for Minimum Unit Pricing in Europe?

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) on alcohol should only be permitted in European countries if all other measures cannot deal with the issue of public health, according to the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In an opinion handed down earlier today, Yves Bot said that Scotland's proposal to introduce MUP “risks infringing the principle of the free movement of goods” and that “increasing taxation of alcohol could be an alternative”. The news will come as a blow to the Scottish Government, which proposed a GBP0.50-per-unit price in May 2012.

The introduction of the Government's proposal was postponed after the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), SpiritsEurope and the Comite Europeen Des Enterprises, Vins launched a legal challenge. The case was then referred to the ECJ in April 2014.

“(MUP) would only be legal if it could be shown that no other mechanism was capable of achieving the desired result of protecting public health,” the European Court of Justice cited Bot as saying today. “In particular, the advocate general suggests that increasing taxation of alcohol could be an alternative and it would be for the Scottish Government to prove that this was not a suitable means of curbing excessive consumption of alcohol.”

An EU member state could introduce MUP, “which restricts trade within the European Union and distorts competition”, only after it has shown that the move “presents additional advantages or fewer disadvantages by comparison with the alternative measure”, Bot said.

The opinion was welcomed by the SWA this morning. “The opinion encourages us in our long-held view that MUP is illegal when there are less trade-restrictive measures available,” said chief executive David Frost. “There is a long-term trend of falling alcohol-related deaths and harms in Scotland, which suggests that measures in place are working."

The ECJ will hand down its ruling on the matter next year.