BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – The EU’s Court of Justice ruled Thursday that consumers must pay excise duties when they order alcohol or cigarettes from other EU countries.

The court said “only products acquired and transported personally by private individuals are exempt from excise duty in the member state of importation.” The ruling is a blow for Internet companies and other cross-border importers, which had hoped to start selling cut-price alcohol and cigarettes across the European Union.

The judgment represents a victory for national tax authorities, which feared losing millions of dollars in lost duty revenues if the court sided with consumers.

Alcohol is taxed at very different rates across Europe and many people in high-tax countries such as Britain, Sweden and Denmark travel abroad to buy cheaper wine and beer for their own use. In Britain, these ferry trips across the Channel to buy wine at French ports are known as “booze cruises.”

This is allowed under an EU law that says alcohol should be taxed at the rate charged in the country where it is on sale if the goods are for personal use and transported by the purchaser.

The court ruled against a case brought by a Dutch wine lover, known only as B.F. Joustra, who challenged a Dutch decision to charge him Dutch duties on a consignment of wine he ordered a transport company to bring from France.

EU spokeswoman Maria Assimakopoulou said the European Commission was disappointed with the ruling.

“We believe the court gave a rather restricted interpretation,” Assimakopoulou said, adding the commission had already drafted a proposal to allow consumers more flexibility to transport cheaper beer or wine home, but countries like Britain and Sweden have been holding up the plan since 2004.

Campaigners for cross-border shopping rights said the ruling was a setback.

“It is a disappointment for many consumers,” said Richard Ashworth, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament. “The European Union should now remove the limits on booze cruisers bringing goods back from abroad for their personal use. It is wrong that innocent consumers are treated like criminals just for exercising their single market rights.”

In court documents, Joustra explained that he and some 70 other food and wine enthusiasts decided to import the wine themselves after they fell in love with what they tasted on a trip to vineyards in France but had no car or no space to take it home with them.

But a 1997 customs charge of 906 euros ($1,161) on 2,016 wine bottles led him to launch a case that climbed through the Dutch courts until they sought advice from the EU’s ultimate legal authority, the European Court of Justice.

The ruling said that if transport companies or other intermediaries start to ship such personal shipments, it would pose “an increased risk of fraud” as transport of products covered by the personal excise duty exemption requires no paper work.


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