by Richard Williams, part of thePublican.com's legal team of experts from London solicitors Joelson Wilson
I read with interest a report on this site, that the European Parliament is considering banning price-led promotions on alcoholic drinks.
The proposed measures, which are still at their very early stages, appear to be based on price competition criteria, rather than to prevent binge drinking or reduce disorder. If the proposals are introduced, then they will not become law in the UK until at least 2006.
It is clear that the European Parliament is concerned that price promotions put smaller operators at a competitive disadvantage, because they are unable to compete with the larger operators.
The commission already has powers to deal with "predatory pricing" and could take action under competition legislation if it believes that alcoholic drinks are being sold below cost to the detriment of other operators.
In practice, I would imagine that any attempt to fix alcoholic drinks pricing across the whole of the European Union would be unlawful and problematic.
Is the commission really suggesting that it would fix prices in each state for each drink? If it wanted to ban price-led promotions, then who would determine the standard price for a drink?
With vastly different taxation rates on alcoholic drinks across Europe, there is already a considerable range of pricing in different states. It has been well documented that, outside Scandinavia, Britain's alcoholic drink prices are some of the most expensive in Europe.
Happy hours and drinks promotions have brought prices down nearer to those found on the continent and as a drinker, I would be upset to see that change.
I will be very interested to see what happens and whether there is ever any legislation on this issue. While we are now benefiting from lower car prices in the UK due to competition from European imports, it would be tragic if the European Parliament is instrumental in increasing drinks prices.
The traditional pub happy hour is under threat as criticism increases over various price promotion strategies. We investigate further.
EU to call time on pub happy hours? (18 June 2002)