EU boon to ouzo drinkers

BRUSSELS (AP) – Greece can continue to tax its trademark tipple, ouzo, at half the rate of other strong spirits, the European Union’s highest court ruled yesterday. The Court of Justice dismissed the argument of the EU Commission, which had called for Greece to end taxing products from other EU nations more heavily than similar domestic products. Some spirits producers had complained about Greece’s higher taxes for gin, vodka, tequila, rum and other similar liquors. In Greece, the drink’s producers said they were pleased with the court’s decision. «All we did was apply the European Union guideline,» said Anastasia Georganda, director of the Union of Greek Distillers. She said that raising tax on ouzo «would have been very negative for a drink like ouzo because it’s a people’s drink.» Other European distillers were displeased. «We’re disappointed but not surprised,» David Williamson, a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association, said. «Today’s court ruling institutionalizes spirit tax discrimination in the single market.» The Luxembourg-based court referred to an article in EU excise laws that specifically allows Greece to reduce taxes on its traditional alcohol, but not by more than 50 percent. The ruling said the excise law could only be challenged in cases of «very serious irregularity.» The provision grants the discount for aniseed-flavored spirits that are colorless, have a sugar content of less than 50 grams per liter and «in which at least 20 percent of the alcoholic strength of the final product is composed of alcohol flavored by distillation in traditional discontinuous copper stills with a capacity of 1,000 liters or less.» Only ouzo fits this narrow description.