EU issues final warning over Danish can ban

Rejecting Danish arguments, Commission to challenge national packaging law on two counts

The European Commission is to send a final warning to the Danish government to drop its controversial ban on metal drinks cans, the organisation announced today. The decision to issue a reasoned opinion against Denmark follows two previous written warnings (ENDS Daily 21 July).

The Commission is alleging that the can ban contravenes the EU's 1994 directive on packaging and packaging waste. It will simultaneously challenge a Danish ban on the use of disposable drinks packaging by domestic drinks producers. Both bans have been in place for well over a decade.

The packaging directive seeks both to reduce the environmental impact of packaging waste and to prevent trade barriers arising from countries adopting different controls. According to the Commission, "Denmark has not struck the appropriate balance" between these two considerations.

Under the directive, member states are not allowed to discriminate against any type of packaging that conforms with a number of "essential requirements" that are defined in the legislation. "In the Commission's view," a press notice says, "the directive harmonises the technical requirements for packaging and a member state cannot deviate from [these] rules unilaterally".

Denmark, however, continues to argue that the Commission's action is contestable because the EU has still not agreed harmonised technical standards to define what the essential requirements mean in practice. This renders the requirements "meaningless," a senior Danish Environmental Protection Agency official told ENDS Daily. "There is no harmonisation at the moment," Helge Andreasen told ENDS Daily.

Danish environment minister Svend Auken has so far responded cautiously to the Commission's announcement. His first comments to the press have been that he would not change his mind about either of the points being challenged, but that he reserved judgement until he had read the detail of the reasoned opinion, which is expected to be delivered within two months.

Though the battle over the can ban is far better known internationally, the Danish government is more concerned over the challenge to its requirement that domestic drinks producers use refillable containers, according to Mr Andreasen. Dropping the ban would lead to a 50% increase in all packaging waste arisings, he said. Any introduction of non-returnable bottles would, in any case, "ruin...the...very efficient" bottle return system currently in place.

Follow Up:
Danish Environmental Protection Agency, tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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