NATIONAL rules within the European Union that ban the sale of certain sizes of bottled alcoholic drinks are almost certainly illegal under EU law, the European Court of Justice has ruled. It heard a case brought by a Belgian company Cidrerie Ruwet SA against another Cidre Stassen SA, which was joined in proceedings by the British cider company HP Bulmer Ltd.

Ruwen had tried to secure an order preventing Stassen from selling cider in 0.33 litre bottles, claiming that this size was banned by Belgian Royal Decree, but the case was referred to the ECJ for guidance by the Tribunal de Commerce de Bruxelles.

The EU court has now ruled that under European freedom of trade rules, such an arbitrary ban on bottle size is illegal and should be abolished. Only where this was "designed to meet an overriding requirement relating to consumer protection," and applies to both national and imported products, should this be allowed, it said.