Cameron's plan for minimum alcohol prices left in tatters after EU legal threat
Officials in Brussels told Scottish ministers they had to withdraw legislation to impose a 50p-per-unit price on alcohol because it was ‘not compatible’ with the EU Treaty.
Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria are also believed to have concerns about Scotland’s plans as they export drink to Britain.
Eurocrats have now ordered Westminster to wade in to review the Scots’ proposals, as Britain - rather than Scotland alone - is a member state of the EU.
But the verdict also deals a devastating blow to the Prime Minister’s own aim to curb the drinking habits of English and Welsh residents.
Despite being repeatedly warned that the proposals could break EU law, Mr Cameron has always insisted he was confident of passing the legislation.
The Scotsman has a few more details...
Last night, a spokesman at the EC’s Industry and Enterprise Directorate confirmed for the first time that it had identified difficulties over the Scottish Government proposals, which have been presented in an “opinion” submitted to Edinburgh. Five EU wine-producing nations – France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria – have also submitted their own opinions to the EC which are also understood to contain their own objections to the measures.
Of the EC’s own opinion, the spokesman said last night: “The content is confidential, but what we can say is that we have a problem with the compatibility of the minimum pricing plans under Community law.”
He added: “We fully share the political objective to fight against the abuse of alcohol. But the specific measure provided by the draft legislation causes problems with the compatibility with the EU Treaty.”
The spokesman said the EC now wanted to avoid an “infringement procedure” which could see the plans – if they go ahead – ending up at the European Court of Justice.
He added that a three-month period of consultation with the Scottish and UK governments would now commence, with the aim of finding a resolution to the legal problems.
He said: “We want to collaborate with the Scottish and UK authorities to find the best way to fight against alcohol.”
However, it now appears almost certain that if the Scottish Government proceeds with the plans, it will involve a potentially lengthy legal battle within the EU.
They were told time and time again that this was an anti-free trade measure that would not pass muster with the EU. It has, after all, been rejected before (see this post from last year for details.)
So. Leave the EU or drop minimum pricing? The choice is yours, Dave.
The Scotsman is already urging the government to retreat.
Not for the first time, a Scottish administration is learning a hard truth about the realities of government and the aspiration of independence in an interdependent and interconnected world.
No country is an island.
Jamaica? Madagascar? Iceland?
Its deeds and actions need to be compatible with broader inter-governmental treaties... The only certainty in all this is that the battle will drag on for years and at a considerable cost to the Scottish taxpayer.
We did try to warn you, y'know.
Galling through it may be for this administration, particularly given it is right to try to tackle the scourge of alcohol in this way, perhaps a pragmatic retreat is in order. Scottish minimum pricing is not going to go anywhere soon, perhaps the Scottish Government should just wait until it sees what happens with David Cameron’s plans to introduce minimum pricing, which are under way.
So much for the fearless Scots "leading the way".
Why embark on a long legal battle when there might be a very much easier way to gain almost the same end? It is not as if anyone believes minimum pricing will be an instant fix to the problem. It will always take time for the benefits to filter through to the drinking culture.
Better to wait for Cameron’s legislation, even if it does leave a bad taste in the mouth and mean a possible loss of control.