A European court has ruled that the Scottish government’s plan for a minimum unit price on alcohol will contravene European Union law if other tax options are available. They said the effect of the policy is “significantly to restrict the market”.
The European Court of Justice ruling recommends the introduction of different tax measures to increase alcohol prices for health and harm reduction purposes. A Scottish court will now determine if such options are available, and if they are, the SNP will be forced to scrap the plan.
Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon attempted to put a positive spin on the ruling.
ECJ opinion on minimum pricing welcome. We believe it is most effective way of tackling alcohol misuse. National court will now decide.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 23, 2015
The European court ruling said: “The Court of Justice considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market, and this might be avoided by the introduction of a tax measure designed to increase the price of alcohol instead of a measure imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol.
Adding: “The Court states that it is ultimately for the national court to determine whether measures other than that provided for by the Scottish legislation, such as increased taxation on alcoholic drinks, are capable of protecting human life and health as effectively as the current legislation, while being less restrictive of trade in those products within the EU.”
The legal challenge had been brought by The Scotch Whisky Association(SWA), which argued the Scottish government’s legislation breached European law.
David Frost, SWA chief executive, told the BBC: “The SWA always said European Union law issues were central to this case, and so it has proved. This settles EU law issues once and for all.
“The court has confirmed that minimum unit pricing is a restriction on trade, and that it is illegal to choose MUP where there are less restrictive ways of achieving the same end.
“The Scottish courts will now reflect on the implications of the ruling and all the evidence, before issuing a final judgement.
“This ruling opens the way to moving the debate on and allowing us to address alcohol misuse with practical measures that actually work. Alcohol-related deaths have fallen by a third over the last decade in Scotland, which suggests we are already on the right path. We remain committed to working closely with the Scottish government and everyone else with an interest.”
The minimum alcohol price policy is the latest example of Scotland’s draconian, big state stance on alcohol. A new tougher drink-driving law stopping people having even a single pint before getting behind the wheel has proven so strict it has actually damaged the economy, one of the country’s top economists said in April.