The Scottish Government will “win hands down” if a challenge to its plans to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol ends up in the European Court, the Health Secretary predicted.
Alex Neil vowed the Scottish Government would “go the full mile” in contesting legal bids to halt the controversial measure.
He spoke out after it was reported five European wine-producing nations – France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria – had branded minimum pricing for alcohol as illegal, unfair and ineffective.
They argue that minimum unit pricing breaches European free trade law by discriminating against imported alcohol products.
Mario Moniz Barreto, secretary general of the Portuguese Spirits Association, also insisted: “There is no demonstration that this measure will have an effect on the people it is trying to protect.”
But Mr Neil insisted the policy would “not be detrimental to trade either within Europe or internationally”.
Holyrood has already passed legislation which seeks to introduce a minimum price for alcohol of 50p per unit, but this has faced challenges from both European wine and spirit producers and the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).
In May, the Court of Session dismissed a legal challenge by the SWA to minimum pricing, saying then that “the measures were not incompatible with EU law”.
Mr Neil said the challenge from the other European countries was “based on the false premise that this is about trying to erect barriers to trade”.
Instead, he said that minimum pricing was “about dealing with the very specific problem we have of alcohol abuse in Scotland”.