Despite a 1987 German Court ruling that German beer purity laws cannot be used to exclude other European beers from the lucrative German market, it is still hard to find such beers in Germany. This is largely due to a gap in EU single market legislation covering the labelling of ingredients in alcoholic drinks. The Commission has twice tried and failed to plug the loophole as national sensitivities come to the fore when such questions are debated in Council. Its latest attempt seeks to bind Ministers to reaching an agreement within three years.
The absence of specific legislation also means that new designer drinks or 'alcopops' such as hooch, popular with teenagers, escape the alcohol labelling net. Such drinks are usually heavily laden with sugar to disguise an alcohol content of 4-6%.
Welcoming the proposal on behalf of the Environment Committee, Horst Schnellhardt (D, EPP) will be tabling several amendments, one of which is designed to prompt the Commission to move more quickly to deal with the 'alcopops' problem, while others are of a procedural or technical nature to ensure that the Commission does not pull a fast one when it comes down to the detail and that MEPs will be involved.
The proposal is for labelling rules to cover all drinks with an alcohol content of more than 1.2% by volume within three years from 1 July 1998.