|Author (Person)||Cordes, Renée|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.4, No.35, 1.10.98, p7|
|Content Type||Journal | Series | Blog|
THE European Commission looks set to pursue legal action against both Germany and Denmark over national packaging laws which allegedly hamper free trade in the EU's single market.
A Commission official said this week that the institution was likely to press ahead with cases against Copenhagen's ban on aluminium and steel cans and German laws requiring drink-makers to put their products in reusable bottles.
Both cases were due to be discussed by senior officials at a meeting of the Commission's infringements committee today (1 October). They were expected to recommend moving to the second stage of infringement proceedings in the Danish case and sending Germany a formal letter of warning. These recommendations would then be passed to the full Commission, which could take a final decision as early as next Wednesday (7 October).
The cases are seen as an acid test of whether the Commission's efforts to remove obstacles to free trade within the EU's single market take precedence over national restrictions to protect the environment.
The EU's 1996 Packaging Directive calls for the harmonisation of national packaging laws both to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market and to protect the environment. But green campaigners claim the emphasis placed on removing barriers to trade often means sacrificing environmentally sound practices.
"The EU still unjustifiably considers internal market issues to be of highest importance," said Axel Singhofen, a spokesman for Greenpeace International. He added that while packaging restrictions such as those in Germany and Denmark promoted regional and national economies, "within the EU everything becomes one big trade block, with more sustainable regional or local structures undermined by EU free trade laws".
Drink producers outside Germany have complained that Bonn's insistence that local bottle-recovery operations be set up hampers their sales and amounts to discrimination. The case sparked a bitter debate between the Commission's internal market and environment departments, with the latter championing Germany's cause.
Government officials in Copenhagen say they see no reason to repeal the country's decade-old ban on aluminium and steel soft drink and beer cans. However, Danish brewers and beverage can-makers say they would accept a repeal of the can ban. They are urging the Commission to make a swift decision on what action, if any, to take.
In the run-up to this week's meeting of the infringements committee, the industry association representing drinks can producers across the EU called on the Commission to step up pressure on Denmark to lift the restriction. "Bans on the market are outdated," said Bob Schmitz, a spokesman for Beverage Can Makers Europe in Brussels. "Denmark should by now have understood that under Community law, its system must be more flexible and be opened to beverage cans."