Belgian lawmakers bitter over French beer tax

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Belgian senators have urged the EU to take action on France’s proposed beer tax hike claiming that it infringes European competition rules. EurActiv.fr reports.

The Belgian Senate voted unanimously on 21 November on a resolution calling on their government to take a discrimination plea to the European Commission.

Belgian brewers currently export 32% of their beer to France, so the excise duty increase could hold serious consequences for employment in the industry, Liberal Senator Yuri Vastersavendts (Open VLD) said in a statement.

In the 1980s, the European courts quashed the decision by the United Kingtom to raise taxes on wine to favour domestic beer production. “The fiscal policy of a member state should not serve to consolidate the existing drinking habits to increase the advantage acquired by national industries”, the senator said.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo did not manage to convince the French president, François Hollande, to backtrack on the proposal during a visit to Paris on 27 November, according to the Flemish news service Deredactie.be.

In France, the National Assembly has rejected an amendment aiming to reduce the excise tax on beer to 120%, from the previous proposal of 160%. On 3 December the French Parliament approved the bill, which is expected to take effect 1 January 2013, barring European intervention.

"The most remarkable aspect is the discriminatory, protectionist nature of this decision," said the Belgian Brewers' Federation. "By contrast, there is almost no excise on wine and no increase is planned."

While Belgians industry argues that the price of a beer in France will rise by 20%, French figures say the increase will only come to some 25 cents for a standard bottle.

The price of a beer in Britain could also rise, with English and Welsh ministers proposing a minimum price of ₤0.45 (€0.56) for a unit of alcohol as part of a push to tackle problem drinking.

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Mariann Skar, Secretary General of European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) said:

"We would like to congratulate the French government for taking the lead and increasing the taxes on alcoholic beverages. At times of current economic difficulties increasing the taxes on alcohol is a win - win situation for all. It helps to repair our public budgets and at the same time prevents and reduces the alcohol related harm. We hope other European governments will follow the French example and increase taxes on alcohol. This is an area also where the European Commission could help, while looking at cuts across different areas to help the EU budget, it could also investigate ways of raising money, such as increasing EU minimum excise duties on alcohol."

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