Packaging taxes "undermining EU single market"

Europen claims "inappropriate" Danish, German, use of LCA sets "dangerous precedent"

New German and Danish fiscal measures on packaging will "seriously undermine" the EU's single market, European packaging chain association Europen claimed today. Both are based on what the body calls "misuse" of life-cycle assessment (LCA) techniques.

In response, Europen is calling on the European Commission to issue "specific guidelines" on national use of economic instruments. Germany and Denmark's initiatives set a "dangerous precedent," it alleges, which might also be applied to other products such as cars, washing machines, refrigerators or toys.

Both the policies under attack have yet to take effect. Germany is to introduce an LCA-based classification of "ecologically disadvantageous" and "ecologically favourable" types of packaging, with deposits imposed on the former (ENDS Daily 25 October 2000). Denmark is to differentiate packaging taxes by material, based on their scores in an "environmental index," also derived from LCA studies (ENDS Daily 18 December 2000).

Europen claims that the measures "directly conflict" with the 1994 EU packaging directive by seeking to "drive certain types of packaging off the market" even though they comply with the law's provisions. "All internal market legislation...will sooner or later become redundant if member states escape its criteria" in this manner, the body argues.

The key underlying factor, Europen says, is "misuse" of LCA techniques. The tool is "excellent" for achieving environmental improvement in given packaging systems, it comments, but should not be used to distinguish between "good" and "bad" ones. What Danish and German legislators have done, it claims, is to "take a snapshot of the situation...to set rigid hierarchies, rules and sanctions which will actually hamper industry's efforts to improve all environmental performance".

The body is renewing a call first made in 1998 for the European Commission to organise a stakeholder conference on how LCA should be used by policy makers.

Europen welcomes Germany's tacit acknowledgement that reusable packaging is not per se ecologically superior - its new classification will replace a minimum legal market share for refillable drinks containers. But, the body continues: "Policy makers should now go further and finally acknowledge that the differences between packaging systems are small and not really significant. Therefore protecting some systems and hampering the market freedom of others is not justified."

Follow Up:
Europen, tel: +32 2 736 3600, and press release.

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