EU ministers that make up the bloc's Competitiveness Council reached political agreement to simplifythe legislation relating to packaged goods. The agreement, if confirmed by the European Parliament,removes the size restrictions on 70 pre-packed products, including such items as ice cream and fishfingers.
Wines and spirits have been excluded from the agreement as previous legislation has streamlinedinto the current fixed sizes. Under a political compromise, national rules on the package sizes for butter, dried pasta, coffee and white sugarwill remain in place for at another five years. The national rules were kept in place due todisagreements among member states.
The new EU regulation would replace 25 different national rules and two of the bloc's directives. Consumer products such as detergents, pet food, ice cream, frozen food, low alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, cleaning products, paints, shampoo,toothpaste are sold in quantities that have been determined by national or by EU law.
The current rules dates from the 1970s, when restrictions on quantities in which products could be sold were thought to protect consumers and to be necessary if products were to be sold throughout theEU. Companies could trade across borders only if their products conformed to the 70 ranges of packsizes set in the bloc and member states' rules.
However the rules also acted as trade barriers. Their legitimacy were whittled away by legalrulings, including a EU court judgment in 1999, which forbade member states to make the range of EU sizes for cider the only ones allowed on its market.Since then all member states have allowed imports that are legally marketed in another member state to pass the frontiersunhindered, the European Commission stated.
"It guarantees a level playing field and the widest consumer choice," theEuropean Consumer said about the new regulation. "Protection remains fully assured by labelling, unitpricing and rules on unfair practices."
The draft directive, as amended by the Council, would allow for a phase-out of national nominal quantities for milk, butter, dried pasta and coffee for a maximumperiod of three and a half years. The phase out period for sugar would be of a maximum of four and a half years. The phasing-out period would be applied with effect from 18 months after the entry into force of the directive.
An impact assessment published last year by the European Commission estimates that by freeing uppackaging sizes for the products marked for phase out measurers, supermarkets would require more sizes to bedelivered. The study found that supermarkets would especially be interested in having sizes that are slightly smaller thanthe most currently sold sizes as a means of making promotions offering 10 per cent free, such as 82.5cl and 1.1L.
"However supermarkets would be limited in their choice by their turnover targets per meter of shelf space and would not want run the risk of adversepublicity by being seen by consumers as deceiving them," the Commission stated.
The estimated costs for processors was estimated at an average of three per cent of turnover,depending on the size of the operation.
"The benefits for producers of fixed sizes turn into costs if sizes would be free,"the Commission noted. "It concerns the costs of investment into more flexible productionfacilities."
The move forms part of the European Commission's plan to simplify EU regulations and reduceadministrative costs for businesses.