EU chiefs ban duty free but keep it for themselves
EU COMMISSIONERS were accused yesterday of ``hypocrisy'' for continuing to enjoy lavish duty free perks, while abolishing the allowances for the general public.
Campaigners for duty free retention are angry that the Commissioners will continue to enjoy huge tax savings on cigarettes, wine, spirits and petrol after allowances disappear next July. The EU Commissioners are officially classified as diplomats and enjoy internationally agreed duty free allowances.
A European wide trades union protest in favour of retaining duty free concessions for the public will highlight this issue at a protest in Brussels today.
The protesters, including SIPTU members, will assemble outside a conference centre where diplomats will be invited to a preview of special Christmas duty-free deals on offer to them.
The protest is being organised by the Euro wide FST ``Save Our Jobs, Save Duty Free'' campaign.
According to the campaign EU Commissioners are entitled to buy 20,000 cigarettes a year, or 54 a day, duty free. They are also entitled to buy 400 litres of champagne or wine a year and and 90 litres of spirits, also duty free.
The deal also allows them buy 5,000 litres of duty free petrol for the first family car, enough to do 35,000 miles and another 2,000 litres for a second car.
Aer Rianta worker-director Rita Bergin, who will be in Brussels for today's protest, said duty free workers had been incensed to learn that EU Commissioners and diplomats would continue to enjoy duty free entitlements after 1999.
She said the jobs of 148,000 workers were at risk in Europe because of the decision to abolish duty free shopping for ordinary travellers.
Ms Bergin, who will be joined by Aer Rianta worker-director colleague Peter Dunne, claimed 4,000 jobs were at risk in Ireland. She said they had the support of 1,200 Aer Rianta workers.
A spokesperson for the Consumers Association of Ireland said that while it supported the abolition of duty free, there could not be double standards over it. ``The whole idea of the abolition of duty free was that everyone should be treated equally. That must apply across the board.''
Betty Olivi, duty free spokeswoman for the EU Commission in Brussels, said EU Commissioners qualified for allowances under an international convention for diplomats. The agreement had nothing to do with the duty free system, which was a separate issue.
In 1991 it was decided that duty free was at odds with the principle of the single market and member states were then given a transitional period to adapt. Ms Olivi said that airport shops would continue to be profitable without duty free goods, as is the case in the US.
Fine Gael MEP Mary Banotti said: ``The Commissioners are behaving in a hypocritical fashion in legislating for the abolition of duty free goods for ordinary travellers within the EU whilst they themselves continue to avail of lavish diplomatic duty free allowances''.
* Richard Ecock, of Ecock Wines, Dublin, estimated how much it would cost a customer to buy the Commissioners' drink and cigarette alowances over the counter here:
* 400 litres of wine at about £10 a bottle about £6,000.
* 90 litres of spirits at about £13 a bottle about £1,560.
* 20,000 cigarettes at more than £3 a packet over £3,000.
Total more than £10,500.