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What does Kir Royal have to do with the internal market? (goods)

Kir Royal is a drink consisting of champagne and crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). One of the key EU rulings which led to the adoption of the Single European Act and the rules of the internal market was the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Communities in the Cassis de Dijon case in 1979. The judgment upholds the principle of mutual recognition of national rules in the sense that goods which are legally produced and marketed in one EU country must also be permitted in the other EU countries.

The Cassis de Dijon case
The Cassis de Dijon case arose from the fact that German legislation imposed the requirement of a certain minimum alcohol content in a fruit liqueur, which meant that the French blackcurrant liqueur Cassis de Dijon could not be sold on the German market.

The case was brought before the EC Court of Justice by a German court for a preliminary ruling. The plaintiff in the case wanted to import a consignment of Cassis de Dijon from France and sell it in Germany, but the German import authorities would not grant an import licence. The reason was that the percentage of alcohol by volume of the liqueur was too low and that it was not therefore permissible to sell it on the German market.

Under the German rules, fruit liqueurs such as Cassis de Dijon should have a minimum alcohol content of 25% to be sold as a fruit liqueur in Germany. Cassis de Dijon only contained between 15% and 20% alcohol.

The plaintiff maintained that the German requirement of a certain minimum alcohol content was a barrier to the free movement of goods between Member States, since it meant that known spirit products from the other Member States could not be sold in Germany.

The Court ruled that a country’s national rules could be acceptable in certain circumstances even if they impeded the free movement of goods between EU countries. That applied when the national rules were unavoidable and necessary in the interests, in particular, of effective tax control, protection of public health, fair trading practice and consumer protection. The German Government put forward various arguments to show that the German rule was necessary, but the Court ended by concluding that rules requiring a specified minimum alcohol content in alcoholic beverages did not serve the public interest in such a way as to take precedence over the concern for freedom of movement for goods, which was one of the Community’s founding principles.

The Court further concluded that such rules in practice gave alcoholic beverages with a higher alcohol content an advantage, since they excluded products from other Member States which did not meet this condition from the national market. It therefore constituted a barrier to trade which could not be accepted for the above-mentioned reason when a Member State unilaterally imposed a minimum content of alcohol as a condition for the sale of alcoholic beverages. Hence there was no valid reason to prevent alcoholic beverages which are legally produced and marketed in one Member State from being imported into other Member States, and it was not permissible to apply a legal prohibition on the sale of these products according to which it was illegal to sell beverages with a lower alcohol content than that laid down in national law.

Minimum 25% alcohol content in fruit liqueur in the interests of public health
One of the German Government’s arguments was that the minimum requirement was based on the concern to protect public health. The minimum requirement was to prevent the German market from being flooded with alcoholic beverages, in particular, beverages with a low alcohol content, since such products could lead to alcohol dependence more easily than beverages with a higher alcohol content. The Court rejected this argument pointing out that German consumers were in any case offered a very wide range of products with a low or moderate alcohol content and that a significant portion of beverages with a high alcohol content sold on the German market were customarily used in diluted form.

Kir Royal
Pour one measure of Crème de Cassis into a glass and carefully add five measures of champagne.