Italy - chocolate
The Commission has decided to send a reasoned opinion to Italy because of unjustified restrictions on imports from other Member States of chocolate products containing vegetable fats other than cocoa butter. According to an Italian circular adopted in 1996, such chocolate products can be sold in Italy only if they are labelled as "chocolate substitute". The Commission considers this requirement to violate Treaty rules on the free movement of goods, as interpreted by the Court of Justice in its case law. According to the principle of mutual recognition, a product legally manufactured and/or marketed in one Member State can be sold in all other Member States unless there is an objective reason, based on the public interest, to justify why it should not be. In the Commission's view, the requirement to label chocolate containing vegetable fats other than cocoa butter as "chocolate substitute" is a disproportionate means to ensure consumer protection. It considers that consumers could be protected from being misled concerning such chocolate by other appropriate and less restrictive means of information (such as neutral and objective labelling of the product).
Netherlands foodstuffs with added vitamins
The Commission is pursuing three separate infringement cases against the Netherlands concerning different aspects of Dutch legislation's prohibition on the addition of certain vitamins and nutrients such as folic acid and iron to foodstuffs in cases where there is no specific nutritional need established. In two cases, the Commission has decided to refer the Netherlands to the Court of Justice and in the third case it has decided to send the Netherlands a reasoned opinion. In the Commission's view, based on the case law of the Court of Justice, national authorities may only ban a food product legitimately made and/or marketed in another Member State in cases where national authorities can prove that the food product in question presents a real threat to public health. The fact that a vitamin or nutrient added to a foodstuff is not related to a precise nutritional need does not mean necessarily that the product presents a threat to human health. The ban on foodstuffs with added vitamins and nutrients therefore represents an unjustified and illegal trade barrier.
Netherlands - margarine
The Commission has decided to send the Netherlands a reasoned opinion concerning another vitamins-related problem with imports of foodstuffs, but this time concerning its regulations requiring margarine to contain vitamin D. In the Commission's view, this regulation constitutes an unjustified restriction on imports of margarine from other Member States which do not contain vitamin D in violation of Treaty rules. In particular, the Commission considers that margarine that does not contain vitamin D in no way represents a threat to human health and that the addition of vitamin D to margarine manufactured and/or marketed in other Member States should remain at the discretion of manufacturers. Following contacts with the Commission, the Dutch authorities proposed to allow sales of margarine without vitamin D imported from other Member States but on condition that it was labelled to draw the consumer's attention to the absence of vitamin D. However, the Commission, after seeking advice from the Standing Committee for food, considers that such an additional labelling requirement would be unjustified and disproportionate.
France - pasta
The Commission has decided to send France a reasoned opinion for unjustified restrictions on the sale in France of pasta products legally manufactured in another Member State from wheat other than durum wheat. The restrictions are based on a French law of 3 July 1934 which requires all pasta products made or sold in France to be composed solely of durum wheat. The French authorities are entitled to establish strict rules concerning the manufacture of pasta within France. However, the Commission considers that the extension to products imported from other Member States of a ban on selling pasta made from common wheat or from a mixture of durum wheat and of common wheat constitutes a violation of EC Treaty rules on the free movement of goods (Article 30). The Commission's view reflects the case law of the Court of Justice, and in particular the Court's 14 July 1988 ruling on similar Italian legislation (joined cases C-407/85 and C-90/86).
The French authorities introduced provisional measures in 1991, in the form of an administrative instruction to the relevant services inviting them to allow the sale of pasta products legally manufactured in another Member State from common wheat or from a mixture of durum wheat and of common wheat. However, the 1934 law has still not been amended to remove the ban on non-durum wheat pasta made in other Member States, despite long-standing promises by the French authorities to do so. The Commission considers that an amendment of the 1934 law is essential to end the infringement of Treaty rules and to ensure legal certainty and transparency for economic operators.
France - labelling obligations for spirits
The Commission has decided to refer France to the Court of Justice concerning the requirement for all beverages of an alcoholic strength higher than 25% in volume to carry a label mentioning that a contribution to French social security has been paid. The requirement to pay the social security contribution was instituted by a law of 19 January 1983 in view of the health risks of immoderate drinking of alcohol, while the labelling requirement was introduced by a decree of March 1983. In the Commission's view, the labelling requirement for spirits constitutes an disproportionate trade barrier because it obliges economic operators exporting alcoholic drinks from other Member States to affix special labels just for the French market, thereby imposing additional costs. The Commission does not consider the message on the label appropriate to the defined objective (public health). The situation would be different if the label carried a message such as "abuse of alcohol is dangerous for your health".
Greece - diet supplements
The Commission has decided to send a reasoned opinion to Greece for unjustified barriers to imports from other Member States of diet supplements. The Greek authorities have refused marketing authorisation for two products that are legally produced and marketed as diet supplements in other Member States, without any justification based on the public interest (such as a public health risk). Moreover, the Greek authorities' processing of the requests for market authorisation was excessively long in the Commission's view (up to 10 months).
Austria - Salami
The Commission has received a complaint to the effect that, in order to protect consumers, the Austrian authorities reserve the trade name "salami" to sausage products which meet the Austrian definition of salami. Consequently, salami from another Member State which has different characteristics to those making up the Austrian definition are required to be sold under a different name in Austria.
Requiring importers of salami from other Member State to use a name other than that used in the country of manufacture is justified only where the product has characteristics other than those which EU consumers might legitimately expect.
However, in the case in hand, it cannot be argued that the plaintiff's product is so different in its composition and manufacture from goods generally known as "salami" in the EU that it might not be considered as falling within the same category. The consumer is sufficiently informed by the particulars appearing on the label, which include the producer's name and address and a list of ingredients. As the Court of Justice has stressed, consumer protection must be geared towards the EU consumer and not solely towards the national consumer. The Commission has consequently decided to send a reasoned opinion to the Austrian authorities.