No tax break for online alcohol consumers

European Court rules that only alcohol transported personally is exempt from excise duties in member state of importation.

B.F. Joustra, a Dutch wine-lover, argued against a custom charge of €906 on wine imported from France. However, the Court, referring to a 1992 directive on the movement of such products, ruled that: “only products acquired and transported personally by private individuals are exempt from excise duty in the member state of importation.”

The ruling will come as a blow to consumers in high-duty countries who may have hoped to buy cheap alcohol online as it asserts that alcohol imported by means of a transport company is subject to national excise duties. On the other hand, ‘booze cruises’ involving citizens travelling to countries with low excise duties and bringing the goods back themselves will not have to pay the high duties as the goods are personally transported.

The European Commission, arguing against the Court’s decision, noted that legislation has been proposed to make it easier to transport less expensive beer but countries like Britain and Sweden have been holding up the plan since 2004. The Advocate-General’s preliminary opinion had led to speculation that online importation of beer would be permitted in the future.

Britain, which expects to collect some £16 billion in taxes from alcohol and tobacco welcomed the ruling.


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