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French Law Decried by EUROPEN

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Packaging group fears mandates to follow could eliminate design benefits preferred by consumers.

August 19, 2009

A change to packaging regulations in France risks negatively affecting consumers in that country and across the European Union (EU), says Brussels-based EUROPEN (the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment). It also risks eroding industry supply chain efficiencies in the packaged goods sector and creating new barriers to trade in the EU internal market, says the group.

 

Because of potential effects of the French change in law, EUROPEN has called on the European Commission to initiate EU Treaty infringement proceedings against France.

 

The “Grenelle” law, adopted in July 2009 by the French National Assembly and Senate, lists the requirements regarding packaging as respecting the needs for product safety, hygiene and logistics. A prior reference to the need for consumer acceptance of packaging is not included.

 

According to a EUROPEN news release, “Removing the necessity of consumer acceptance could, for example, result in French authorities making judgments that it is unlawful to use multi-packs. This system of grouping products together using an extra layer of packaging is offered as a convenience to consumers to make handling easier and to reduce the amount of time needed at the checkout counter. Similarly, regulators may stipulate packaging that uses less material but which results in inconvenience for consumers because it is more difficult to open.”

 

Julian Carroll, the managing director of EUROPEN, remarks, “I would be interested to see the reaction of French consumers if suddenly the traditional champagne bottle was ordered to be replaced by a lighter weight container on the grounds that it did not comply with the essential requirements despite ample evidence that consumers demand this time-honoured method of packaging.”

 

He continues, “Similarly, conventional packaging for high-priced luxury goods, an important element of the French economy, could also be ruled illegal.”

 

In its request to the EU Commission for the initiation of infringement proceedings against France, EUROPEN has stated that enforcement of the Grenelle law requires EU approval.

“Because [a previous] directive, adopted by the European Parliament and Council, is an EU harmonised directive, a member state is bound by its requirements and has no powers to amend it unilaterally.”

 

EUROPEN says its member companies in France have pointed this out to legislators, but their warnings have apparently not been heeded. Says Carroll, “We have asked the Commission to act promptly in this case to prevent any possible disruption to the internal market for packaging and packaged goods. Having a harmonised EU packaging law is essential to avoid the possibility that goods manufactured in one EU member state may be prevented from being sold in another simply because of different rules about packaging.”

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