European commissioner criticises UK alcohol taxes

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High taxes on drink in Britain have been criticised by a European commissioner who was visiting Tony Blair.Internal market commissioner Fritz...

High taxes on drink in Britain have been criticised by a European commissioner who was visiting Tony Blair.

Internal market commissioner Fritz Bolkestein has criticised British duty rates before and is in favour of harmonising taxes across the European Union.

"Excise taxes in this country are very high - they are the highest in the European Union," he said.

He used his visit to Tony Blair to ask the Prime Minister to cut taxes on alcohol and cigarettes and stop seizing holidaymakers' cars if they exceed recommended personal allowances.

He said the "root cause" of the problem of smuggling in the UK was Britain's high duty levels.

During the summer, EU officials expressed concern over British Customs and Excise officers' "heavy-handed" approach.

European legal action has begun that could force Britain to reconsider its position on smuggling, although the Treasury has maintained it will not consider harmonisation of duty.

Mr Bolkestein also gave Mr Blair a survey of 4,000 companies across the 15 EU states.

It showed that red tape and complicated regulations put Britain at the bottom of the league of countries where it is easy to trade.

A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry, which has attacked the Government in the past for its excessive regulation, said: "Things may not be as bad as this survey suggests. But this should serve as a wake-up call to all public policymakers of the dangers of over-regulation."

Related stories:

BBPA: UK alcohol prices no more expensive than the continent (21 November 2001)

Alcohol price tops list in 'rip-off' UK (12 November 2001)

UK booze prices could be slashed (05 November 2001)

Related topics: Legislation

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