EU to challenge German packaging refill quota

Commission's environment department recommends legal action on mineral water market alone

The European Commission looks increasingly likely to proceed with infringement action against Germany over its controversial quota for refillable drinks containers. Industry insiders say the environment directorate has recommended sending Germany a second warning over the law. The proposal will be discussed by senior European Commission officials tomorrow, leading to a possible formal decision on whether to proceed in early July.

Unlike formal notices sent in 1995 and 1998 (ENDS Daily 16 January 1998), the Commission is now set to send a reasoned opinion concerning only imported natural mineral water and spring water. The quota for refillable drinks containers imposed by the German packaging ordinance of 1991 is 90% for these markets, but the law also sets quotas for carbonated soft drinks, wine and beer, milk and fruit juices.

Further legal action restricted to mineral water containers appears to reflect a compromise between DG Environment's preference for not pursuing infringement proceedings over the refill quota at all (ENDS Daily 26 January), and other departments' determination to overturn the law entirely.

There has been sustained pressure from some countries, especially from France and the French mineral water industry, for the EU to challenge the quota, regarded as a barrier to trade. European laws require mineral and natural spring waters to be bottled at source for hygiene reasons. A spokesperson for the French mineral water producers told ENDS Daily that the industry was asking for "special treatment" on the grounds that it was not practical to return, wash and reuse refillable packaging for exported mineral and natural spring water.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for Beverage Can Makers Europe (BCME) and packaging association Europen said they were reassured that the recommendation included a clause reserving the right to extend the action to other drinks markets. ENDS Daily understands that EU action against Germany's 29% refillable wine bottle quota is the next most likely candidate to be challenged, though no timescale has been set.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; BCME, tel: +32 2 761 2371; Europen, tel: +32 2 736 3600; French association of mineral water producers, tel: +33 1 47 20 31 10.

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