Brewers and winemakers across Europe have slammed European Commission proposals calling for tax hikes on alcohol in countries like France and Germany to bring rates into line with countries like the UK. A proposal to be debated by the Council of Ministers next month calls for a sharp rise in minimum rates on beer and spirits in a bid to tackle cross border smuggling. It also proposes a minimum rate on wine, which would involve huge price rises in France, Italy and other wine making countries. Maximum rates would also be set, although countries currently exceeding them would not be expected to cut rates, but merely freeze them, meaning it would take several decades before there would be any real convergence. The proposal, which would come into force in January 2003 if adopted by the European Parliament, follows an EC report concluding "current excise duty system will continue to attract fraudulent operators" unless there is EU tax harmonisation. Klaus Volmich, legal advisor to trade body Brewers of Europe, said that the proposal did not offer a solution to the problem of smuggling. "The sensible solution is a phased reduction of duty in countries like Sweden and the UK, rather than forcing Spain and Germany and so on to impose duty hikes. He added: "The minimum rate of duty is E9.35 per hectolitre of beer. In Sweden it's over E140. Under the new proposal, it will take years to reach convergence." However, the British Beer and Pub Association said the proposal was long overdue: "What is proposed is not a perfect solution, but it's a bold and brave step in the right direction that recognises what we've been saying for years about tackling duty evasion." {{NEWS }}