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CEEV and Spirits Europe file formal complaint over Irish wine label health warnings

The Comité Européen des Enterprises Vins (CEEV) and Spirits Europe have filed complaints to request that the European Commission opens an infringement procedure against Ireland’s controversial plans for new alcohol labelling legislation.

The measures, announced in June last year, would see alcoholic beverage labels adorned with warnings about the health risks of excessive alcohol consumption.

The reaction from wine producers in Europe has been scathing, with some arguing that adding such warnings conflates moderate drinking with liver disease and cancer, which is an “insult” to winemakers. The Italian wine industry has been especially incensed by Dublin’s plans.

Now CEEV, which represents wine companies in the European Union, has submitted a complaint accusing the Irish government of imposing “disproportionate” rules that were “never properly justified”.

In particular, CEEV accuses the rules of forming a “barrier to trade contrary to Articles 34 and 36 of the Treaty of Functioning of the EU, thereby jeopardising the EU Single market”.

CEEV president Mauricio González-Gordon said: “The provisions included in the Irish labelling regulations are incompatible with EU law and constitute an unjustified and disproportionate barrier to trade under EU legislation. They will fragment the EU Single Market by affecting its proper functioning, de facto hindering access of products from other Member States to Ireland and thus generating clear discrimination to imported products.”

“While we fully support the fight against alcohol abuse,” González-Gordon explained, “we strongly believe this objective could be achieved by more effective and less trade-restrictive measures that should be, in addition, compatible with current EU law.”

CEEV secretary general Ignacio Sánchez Recarte said that the committee was left with “no other choice” but to present a complaint against Ireland: “We remain convinced that it is the responsibility of the European Commission to work towards defining a harmonszed and scientifically appropriate legal framework that protects the EU Single market and adequately informs consumers. As CEEV, we stand ready to proactively collaborate on this matter.”

Spirits Europe

It comes as Spirits Europe, the Brussels-based trade association which represents the spirits sector from 31 national associations and 8 leading multinational companies, including Barcadi-Martini, Moet Hennessy and Diageo, believes the draft regulation ‘represents a disproportionate trade barrier hampering the free movement of goods’ and has also filed a complaint.

According to the association, the new rules would prevent the sale of other alcoholic beverages legally sold in EU member states from being sold in Ireland, unless they are re-labelled with additional information on the grams of alcohol and on the number of calories in the container, as well as health warnings text and pictograms.

This would make it ‘considerably more complex and more expensive for non-Irish producers and distributors from within and outside the EU to make their products available to Irish consumers’, it claimed.

Speaking about the formal complaint, director general of Spirits Europe, Ulrich Adam, said: “We believe Ireland has failed to demonstrate the admissibility of their measures. In addition, the Commission is bound to present new, harmonised labelling rules for alcoholic beverages soon. In such a situation, common practice has it that plans for deviating national rules should be paused.”

“We fully acknowledge and respect Ireland’s right to take action to ensure a high level of protection of the public health of its citizens. Numerous meaningful, proportionate, and evidence-based public health measures to help reduce alcohol-related harm are available. However, it would appear that Ireland conducted an insufficient analysis of the proportionality of their particular policy choices on labelling, as other suitable, yet less restrictive options to trade clearly exist.”

The group also highlighted that evidence submitted by Ireland to the European Commission on the justification for the new rules was ‘inaccessible to the public’, it said.

Adam concluded: “We believe the public has a right to know which evidence has been collected and examined by Ireland and the European Commission to consider the planned measures justified and proportionate. In the interest of transparency and better law making, we believe the assessment should be made accessible to the public in full.”

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