Monday 8 October 2012

UK Government Acts Swiftly To Keep Plain Packaging Of Alcohol Possible

We're told that the UK government has an "open mind" on plain packaging. So open is it that they have taken to running a Cabinet Office representative off to Iceland to make sure it is not placed off the table by the EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

To cut a long story short, according to international law expert Alberto Alemanno, Iceland recently refused a cider manufacturer entry to their market on the basis that their packaging was too - to coin a phrase - 'glitzy'.
Iceland heavily restricts the marketing (packaging) opportunities for alcohol products. It does so by limiting the permitted text and visual imagery typically depicted on the label. The rules governing the product selection undertaken by ÁTVR (The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland) provide that packaging and labeling may only contain certain information relating to the product, its production method or its properties, and that the ATVR cannot accept products if the text or visual imagery on the packaging contains inter alia loaded or unrelated information, or suggests that alcohol enhances physical, mental, social or sexual function, or if it offends people’s general sense of propriety, e.g. by referring to violence, religion, pornography, illegal drugs, political views, discrimination, criminal conduct, etc. 
It is on this basis that HOB, an importer of alcoholic beverages to Iceland, saw its products (cider produced and legally marketed in Denmark) denied access to the Icelandic market. HOB’s products are marketed in stylish and attractively decorated 33cl aluminium cans, featuring artful drawings, including colorful illustrations of women’s legs with some apparently naked skin.

Shocking, isn't it? So much so that Iceland banned the packaging, which could have had implications on the way the EU treats the same subject matter elsewhere.

If the cider manufacturer's legal objection had been allowed to stand, the EU would have found it difficult to impose EU-wide packaging restrictions on alcohol, and therefore a precedent would have been set for other products (I think you know to which I might be referring).
In essence, in case E-2/12, HOB-vín ehf. and The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland (ÁTVR), the Icelandic court asks the EFTA Court whether the product selection rules used by the alcohol monopoly constitute an obstacle to the free movement of goods within the meaning of Article 11 of the EEA, which – as is typically the case in the EEA Agreement – is identical to Article 34 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, prohibiting measures having an equivalent effect to a quantitative restrictions.
So, off to Reykjavik Sir Arnold's drone toddled to make absolutely sure this silly liberalism was nipped in the bud. The UK was the only EU member state out of all 27 to make any fuss (page 11). Nice, compliant EU arse-lickers that our once proud nation now seems to be.

The upshot is that, not only was the Cabinet Office agent (I like that terminology, seeing as no-one but a select few would have known he was going there) objecting to the slapping down of laws against pretty packaging, he was also making damn sure that the option of no packaging at all was still allowable to a government very near to you.
Interestingly enough, when the President of the EFTA Court, Prof. Carl Baundenbacher, expressly asked the UK agent, whether his reasoning would also apply to a more restrictive standardized measure such as plain packaging, Mr. Ian Rogers, the barrister acting on behalf of the UK Government, did not hesitate to reply that, 'yes', this was the case.
That's how open a mind our government has on plain packaging. So open is it that they are prepared to kibosh an appeal which could have caused them problems on tobacco packaging, despite it also opening the door for plain packaging of alcohol too, should it - or the EU - so choose to go that route in the future.

Explains a lot
, doesn't it?


sillyusername said...

Since Iceland has one of the highest rates of alcoholism in the world there hardly seems much point in following their example. Is this reverse logic? It doesn't work in a country where alcohol sales and strengths are already restricted, there is no advertising and prices are exorbitant therefore it must work here.

ivandenisovich said...

Forgive me for being dense Dick but are you saying that we flew yet another of the myriad faceless drones from Whitehall over to a country that has major issues with alcohol, to fight an attempt to argue against a pointlessly strict law on alcohol packaging, just to make sure that our bureaucrats can maintain powers to be more illiberal and repressive than their EU counterparts?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

You got it.

RB said...

THey can make alc and fag packages invisible for all I care. I'll still buy the stuff.

JonathanBagley said...

And an effect of exhorbitant prices is a massive black market in alcohol.
which is what will happen in the UK should a minimum price be introduced; together with home beer and wine making on an enormous scale.

Dr Evil said...

In this here single EU market why isn't there a single level of tax, including duty and VAT on alcoholic drinks? Surely there should be, preferably the French one in this case.