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No change for EU alcohol market


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The European Court has ruled against making it easier for European consumers to buy cigarettes and alcohol from countries where excise duties are low.

High-duty countries like the UK had risked losing large amounts of revenue.


It means that shoppers who want to take advantage of low duty and VAT in other states will still need to go there and bring back the goods themselves.


Had the ruling gone the other way, consumers of alcohol and tobacco could have gone on an internet bargain hunt.


Observers had predicted an end to Britons, Danes, Swedes and Finns going on "booze cruises" to neighbouring countries to buy cheaper alcohol.


The UK government already loses duty of more than £1bn (1.5bn euros) per year because of booze cruises, and would have stood to lose a lot more.


Duty on a bottle of wine varies from nothing in 13 EU countries, to 2.1 euros in Ireland, and the price of cigarettes varies by a factor of 12.


Wine lovers


The European Court was asked to interpret EU law by the Dutch Supreme Court, after a Dutch wine club objected to being charged duty on a lorry-load of wine delivered from France.


An official adviser to the European Court of Justice said the club chairman who ordered the delivery should only pay duty in France.


But on this occasion, the judges rejected the adviser's argument.


The court ruled that in order for products to be exempt from excise duty in the state of importation:


They must be for the use of the private individual who has bought them - not for other people, such as other members of a wine club

They must be transported personally by the private individual

The EU directive in question states: "As regards products acquired by private individuals for their own use and transported by them... excise duty shall be charged in the member state in which they are acquired."


The Italian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish and UK governments had argued that "transported by them" should be strictly interpreted.


A UK government source said the ruling was a victory for common sense.


The judgement makes clear that someone shopping abroad cannot bring back more than the maximum guideline levels - 90 litres of wine, 110 litres of beer, 10 litres of spirits and 800 cigarettes - by arguing that part of it is for someone else.


The European Commission has proposed a change to the directive that would make this possible - but it will only become law if all EU countries agree to it.



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EU alcohol ruling cheers traders


Retailers have responded with relief to a European Court ruling allowing consumers to buy drinks and cigarettes online at lower duties from abroad.

The decision means shoppers buying cheaper goods abroad will still have to accompany the goods back themselves.


Shopkeepers said a different ruling allowing an internet bargain hunt would have hit them hard, while the Treasury said it was a victory for commonsense.


The UK loses duty of more than £1bn per year because of "booze cruises".


And it would have lost a lot more if the ruling had gone the other way and more shoppers had turned to buying low-duty goods online.


"This clear win for the government is a victory for commonsense," said a Treasury source.



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