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Internet booze banned by EU; RULING: No cheap drink and cigs deals for 'armchair customers'.

EUROPEAN judges today delivered a new interpretation of EU single market rules which means that EU laws which have benefited "booze cruise" cross-Channel customers for years should not apply to armchair shoppers using the internet and mail-order. Here's what it means:

Q Does life have to be this complicated?

A It does when you've got a group of European countries all with different excise duty and tax rates, but operating in a single market where there are supposed to be no barriers to cross-border trade.

Q You mean I should already be able to buy a box of fags in Lithuania, say, pay whatever the excise duty rate is there, and then bring them home and smoke them without Gordon Brown complaining?

A Exactly. But countries with high excise rates, such as the UK, are not going to lower them to the level of the lowest in the EU.

Q What about the free market? If I can get cheaper stuff somewhere else why should I have to pay domestic duties when I bring it back?

A That's exactly what this legal battle has been about - our rights to a genuine single market in goods around the EU.

Q But the Chancellor thinks the single market's a good thing, doesn't it?

A Yes, except the bits of it that destroy his tax base. The Treasury relies on pounds 16 billion a year in excise duty revenue and if people switch to surfing the internet to get stuff at cheaper rates elsewhere, Mr Brown is going to have a very big hole in his annual accounts.

Q So why doesn't he apply market forces by lowering the rates and making it attractive for us to buy our cigarettes and alcohol at home?

A Because he'd never make up the difference and also because of a genuine belief that excise rates on alcohol and particularly cigarettes should be kept high to discourage excess drinking and smoking.

Q Was this just a cunning plan by Brussels to make us love the EU?

A No. It was cunning plan by a group of wine buffs in the Netherlands who import quality French wines and resent having to pay Dutch duties on the plonk on top of the French excise duties they already paid.

Q So?

A So they complained and the European Court of Justice looked at the current rules with a view to declaring that any EU citizen can buy booze and fags from anywhere in the EU and pay only the rate of duty in force in that country.

Q We can already do that can't we? What about booze cruises?

A Yes, but booze cruises were built on the back of a nice little concession which allows individuals to pay just the local duty as long as they've personally bought and brought back the cheap drink and alcohol themselves. If anyone else brings it in, the duty payable is that of the country of consumption.

Q So what would have happened to booze cruises?

A They would have gone out of fashion if people had ordered stuff on the internet or by mail order and saved maybe hundreds of pounds on a good-sized order.

Q But they would have paid for delivery?

A Obviously, but only a few pounds per order.

OUR SAY: PAGE 58

THE BIG QUESTION: PAGE 59

CAPTION(S):

THING OF THE PAST?... stocking up on wine on booze cruise to Calais.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Nov 23, 2006
Words:574
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