SNP minsters’ plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland could still be jettisoned after the European Commission raised questions over its legality.
In May, despite opposition from Labour, the Scottish Parliament passed a bill to set the minimum price for alcohol at 50p a unit.
A Scottish Government spokesman defended the bill, saying: “Minimum pricing of alcohol does comply with European law, provided it is justified on the basis of public health and social grounds.”
However, the European Commission has issued a response which calls into question the legality of the proposed bill, as a result of which the consultation has been extended until after Christmas.
News of the European Commission’s opposition to the proposals came as reports emerged yesterday that Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and Bulgaria have all disputed the plans on the grounds that they breach European laws on free trade. The Scotch Whisky Association announced this summer that it would fight plans at the European Commission.
Mike Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said: “It is abundantly clear that plans for minimum alcohol pricing have hit a wall of opposition in Europe.”
However, a Scottish government spokesman said: “We believe that minimum alcohol pricing will save lives and reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse and we also believe that minimum unit pricing is the most effective pricing measure.
“We are confident that we can demonstrate under European law, that the minimum pricing of alcohol is justified in Scotland on the basis of public health and social grounds.
“This is not unexpected and within the usual procedures for notification under the Technical Standards Directive. We are currently considering the opinions and comments we have received, including the opinion from the Commission, and will respond accordingly within the permitted timescale of December 27,” he said.