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Friday, May 9, 2008

Health, alcohol and EU law: understanding the impact of European single market law on alcohol policies
The European Journal of Public Health Advance Access published online on May 8, 2008

Many professionals in the alcohol field see the role of the the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as negative for health.

This review examines ECJ and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) case law in the context of two broader debates: firstly the extension of European Union (EU) law into alcohol policy (the ‘juridification’ of alcohol policy), and secondly the extent to which alcohol policy is an example of the dominance of ‘negative integration’ (the removal of trade-distorting policy) over ‘positive integration’ (the creation of European alcohol policies).

From looking at taxation, minimum pricing, advertising and monopoly policies, the extension of the scope of the these courts over alcohol policy is unquestionable. However, the ECJ and EFTA Court have been prepared to prioritise health over trade concerns when considering alcohol policies, providing certain conditions have been met.

While a partial juridification of alcohol policy has led to the negative integration of alcohol policies, this effect is not as strong as sometimes thought; EU law is more health friendly than it is perceived to be, and its impact on levels of alcohol-related harm appears low. Nevertheless, lessons emerge for policymakers concerned about the legality of alcohol policies under EU law.

More generally, those concerned with alcohol and health should pay close attention to developments in EU law given their importance for public health policy on alcohol.

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