Harris vows to overcome stiff EU objections to alcohol labelling bill
Health Minister Simon Harris will appeal directly to his EU counterparts in efforts to overcome their objections to a tough proposed law on alcohol labelling and pricing.
Officials have signalled that the planned Public Health Alcohol Bill will continue its passage through the Dáil and Seanad in spite of heavy opposition from up to a dozen EU states and reservations from the policy-guiding EU Commission.
All of these have expressed objections under EU single market rules to plans for minimum unit-pricing and to new rules that labels must carry a health warning and a calorie count. The Irish Government has been given three months to file a reply and could ultimately face penalties in the EU Court of Justice if found to be impeding the free movement of goods.
Dublin Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes, who has done a lot of work on the issue, yesterday warned that member states' concerns must be allowed to trump EU single market rules. "Member states must be able to react to ongoing health concerns, which are particular to those member states, in a determined and co-ordinated way," he told the Irish Independent.
Government officials said the draft bill remains at an early stage in the law-making process and the intervening time will be used to discuss the objections at EU level. Mr Harris said he would take up the issue with his fellow EU health ministers.
"Alcohol abuse is a serious issue for Ireland and we must deal with it. It is my personal view that we cannot be obliged to proceed at the pace of the slowest within the EU on this issue," Mr Harris told the Irish Independent.
Mr Hayes said the measure is a landmark piece of public health legislation with measures including minimum pricing, advertising rules and restrictions on promotions. The most controversial element is the requirement for labelling - no such laws exists in any other EU country.