EC upholds France's ban on alcohol sponsorship

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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has sent shockwaves through Europe's advertising community with its unexpected rejection of U.S. brewer Anheuser-Bush's complaint against France's Loi Evin, which prevents it from sponsoring the soccer World Cup in 1998.

The move, which was made on the grounds of "public health", has been branded a "political decision" by the European Association of Advertising Agencies. Director of External Affairs Anthony Arke describes the result as "astonishing". He believes it may have been inspired by anything from the public health furore over the BSE disease in cattle, to the fact that A-B is a U.S. company, or because a law is already going through the French parliament to amend the Loi Evin.

And he warns that the Commission's decision could lead to a blanket ban on sponsorship by alcoholic drinks companies throughout Europe. "It's really astonishing that the Commission has taken this action against the advice of its own [independent] legal service," he says. It means the internal market cannot function. "And this could logically lead to a very strange situation where Commissioner Flynn [responsible for social affairs and health] says there should be harmonization with the French law."

The EAAA plans to lobby for a review of the decision, but it is also urging the Union of European Football Associations to fight the cause.

A-B signed as one of the core sponsors of the soccer competition that is said to attract more viewers than the Olympic Games. But the French law, passed in 1991 to protect the domestic drinks industry against foreign competition, would make that sponsorship impossible.

Ad industry watchers had expected the European Commission to decide in favor of A-B and to declare the Loi Evin against the principles of the internal market of the European Union.

A-B could still sponsor the World Cup if France passes the law, proposed at the end of January this year, which would allow sponsorship by alcohol drinks companies.

Copyright March 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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