By a Newsnet reporter
SNP MSP Bob Doris has welcomed an EU indication that the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol will be permissible under European Union law.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon held talks with EU Health Commissioner John Dalli and other senior officials in Brussels this week, and has claimed that the message coming from the European Commission is that the proposals will not fall foul of EU law.
Following the meeting with the EU Health Commissioner, Ms Sturgeon said:
"The very clear message coming from the commission was confirmation that minimum pricing for alcohol is entirely compatible in principle with EU law."
However speaking to the BBC, Mr Dalli's spokesman, Frederic Vincent, issued a note of caution as the precise details of the Scottish plans will have yet to be examined by EU lawyers.
Mr Vincent said: "We will have to check if Scotland's proposals are compatible with EU law. At this stage we don't know."
However Mr Vincent did not deny that the principle of mininum pricing conformed with EU law.
Mr Vincent's message was reported by the BBC as a "denial" that mininum pricing will be legal and the impression given was that the Commission did not 'back' the plans.
However independent observers believe that Mr Vincent's statement merely means that the Scottish government may have to change some of the details of their proposal should these be found to be incompatible with EU law, but that the basic principle has been accepted by the EU Health Commissioner.
The Labour party in Scotland have come out strongly against mininum pricing for alcohol, their objections being partly based on the claim that the idea is in breach of EU law. Mr Dalli's assurances to Ms Sturgeon deprive opponents of minimum pricing of their main argument.
Mr Doris, SNP MSP for Glasgow and deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee, said:
"The SNP has always understood that minimum pricing would be perfectly legal, but this confirmation from the Health Commissioner himself is very welcome nonetheless.
"The issue of legality has been used a smokescreen by opponents of minimum pricing, but that excuse is no longer available to them. They must now accept that the principle of minimum pricing is legally acceptable to the EU and that there is no legal barrier to the Scottish Government legislating to introduce it.
"Alcohol-fuelled ill health and social disorder is serious issue in our society and one that the SNP is tackling head on. Last week’s independent report by the University of Sheffield reaffirmed that minimum pricing will be a powerful weapon in addressing Scotland's unhealthy relationship with the bottle, which is why it is backed by medical, public health and criminal justice experts.
"Now that any lingering objections on legal grounds have been addressed, I hope that MSPs of all parties will unite in support of minimum pricing."