EU close to action on German packaging law

Majority of European Commissioners favour legal proceedings over refill quota

EU legal action against Germany over a law that requires most drinks containers to be refillable as an environmental protection measure is looking more likely following a meeting of senior officials in the European Commission yesterday.

Legal experts on the personal staffs of all 20 European Commissioners met to discuss whether the Commission should open infringement proceedings against Germany for failing to comply fully with the 1994 EU directive on packaging and packaging waste. The majority came down in favour, according to sources, while only one - the cabinet of environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard - opposed legal action.

The European packaging industry and several EU countries have objected strenuously to Germany's packaging law on the grounds that its refill quota is an unreasonable barrier to free trade (ENDS Daily 14 March 1997). But the Commission has shown signs of nervousness over the possibility of antagonising so important a European member state and has for long avoided reaching a decision on whether or not to proceed with legal action.

First introduced in 1991, Germany's packaging ordinance (regulation) is currently being revised, partly with the aim of complying with the EU packaging directive. Some elements of the ordinance are to be relaxed to meet the requirement that national laws passed to comply with the EU directive should ensure environmental protection without compromising the EU's internal single market.

An element of the existing German law not being revised, however, is a requirement that a minimum of 72% of beverage containers on the market should be refillable. International drinks and packaging companies and countries that export drinks in one-way packaging to the German market complain that this favours local German producers and is a barrier to trade.

Following yesterday's meeting, European packaging interests have welcomed the increased chances of EU legal action. If the Commission "wanted to be taken seriously" in this area, then it had "no other alternative" but to proceed with court action, Julian Carroll of trade association Europen told ENDS Daily today.

A final decision on whether to take legal action could now follow swiftly, with meetings of heads of commissioners' cabinets, and possibly of the full Commission scheduled for next week. However, a Commission official told ENDS Daily that the decision might still be postponed on the grounds that Germany is still in the process of revising its national packaging law.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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