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Brussels, 2 July 2007

Excise duties – Minimum retail selling prices for cigarettes: infringement proceedings against Austria, Ireland and Italy

The European Commission has formally called upon Austria, Ireland and Italy to amend their legislation setting minimum retail selling prices for cigarettes. In the Commission's view, and as consistently held by the Court of Justice of the European Communities, minimum prices breach Community legislation and distort competition. To reduce tobacco consumption, the Commission recommends increasing excise duties on cigarettes. These requests have been made in the form of a reasoned opinion[1], the second stage of the infringement proceedings provided for in Article 226 of the Treaty. If these Member States do not respond satisfactorily to the reasoned opinions within two months, the Commission may refer the matters to the Court of Justice.

The Commission acknowledges that prices and tax measures are efficient levers for reducing tobacco consumption. However, they must conform to obligations arising from Community law.

In this respect, the Court of Justice of the European Communities has already ruled that:

  • the setting of minimum prices is incompatible with the present legal framework (Article 9(1) of Directive 95/59/EC) since such a measure, when taken by the public authorities, inevitably has the effect of limiting the freedom of producers and importers to determine their selling prices (see Court judgment in Case C-302/00, Commission v France).
  • minimum prices are not needed since public health objectives may be attained by increased taxation of tobacco products (judgment of 19 October 2000 in Case C-216/98, Commission v Greece).

The Commission fully supports the Member States' taking anti-smoking measures to guarantee a high level of public health protection.

With this in mind, the Commission in particular recommends, as possible measures, higher excise duties and minimum taxes to help reduce cigarette consumption. These measures have the same effects on prices as setting minimum prices but do not reduce price-based competition to the sole benefit of manufacturers by protecting their profit margins.

Belgium has complied with the Commission's opinion and has amended its legislation to bring it into line with Community law (see IP/07/373). This has made it possible to increase State budget revenue and to achieve a dissuasive increase in the price of tobacco.

The dossier reference numbers are as follows: 2006/2288 (Austria), 2006/2083 (Ireland) and 2005/2107 (Italy).

For the latest information on infringement proceedings see: For further information on current legislation regarding tobacco products see:

[1] Supplementary reasoned opinion in the case of Ireland.

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