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The EU’s Failure to Support Member States in their Implementation of the WHO Recommendations: How to Ignore the Elephant in the Room?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 July 2017


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University of Liverpool,


University of Liverpool,


1 According to the Marketing Budgets Report 2016, the trend towards increased use of digital marketing strategies continues: in 2016 72% of companies surveyed increased their digital marketing budget. See P Pinto, “The Rise of Digital Marketing” (22 September 2016, On the problems associated with the digital marketing of unhealthy food to children, see Tackling food marketing to children in a digital word: trans-disciplinary perspectives (Copenhagen, WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2016).

2 Art. 114(1) TFEU.

3 Directive 2003/33, OJ L 152, 20.6.2003, pp. 16–19.

4 Directive 2014/40, OJ L 127, 29.4.2014, pp. 1–38.

5 Case 380/03 Germany v Parliament and Council [2006] ECLI:EU:C:2006:772; Case C-547/14 Philip Morris Brands [2016] ECLI:EU:C:2016:325.

6 Art. 168(1) TFEU, Art. 114(3) TFEU, Art. 9 TFEU and Art. 35 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights.

7 Alemanno, A and Garde, A, “The Emergence of an EU Lifestyle Policy: The Case of Alcohol, Tobacco and Unhealthy Diets” (2013) 50(6) Common Market Law Review 1745 Google Scholar; F Geber, “Between a rock and a hard place: the controversial case of legislative harmonization and national lifestyle policies” and Garde, A and Friant-Perrot, M, “The regulation of marketing practices for tobacco, alcoholic beverages and foods high in fat, sugar and salt – a highly fragmented landscape”, both in A Alemanno and A Garde (eds), Regulating Lifestyle Risks: The EU, Alcohol, Tobacco and Unhealthy Diets (Cambridge University Press, 2015)Google Scholar; Bartlett, O, “The EU’s Competence Gap in Public Health and Non-Communicable Disease Policy” (2016) 5(1) Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law 50 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Directive 2010/13, OJ L 95, 15.4.2010, pp. 1–24.

9 See in particular Garde, A, EU Law and Obesity Prevention (Alphen Aan de Rijn, Kluwer Law International, 2010)Google Scholar ch 5; and Bartlett, O and Garde, A, “Time to seize the (red) bull by the horns: the EU’s failure to protect children from alcohol and unhealthy food marketing” (2013) 38(4) European Law Review 498 Google Scholar.

10 White Paper on A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues, COM(2007) 279 final.

11 EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014–2020, available at (last accessed 24 May 2017).

12 Case C-376/98 Germany v Parliament and Council [2000] ECLI:EU:C:2000:544.

13 ECORYS report, Study on the exposure of minors to alcohol advertising on TV and in online services (Brussels, March 2016), available at (last accessed 24 May 2017) and in particular section 4.2 on viewing patterns, at pp. 62–72.

14 Art. 1(h).

15 Bartlett and Garde, supra, note 9, 507. The possibility for children to access promotional messages for unhealthy commodities via YouTube is particularly concerning. See the conclusions of a study conducted on alcohol marketing: Barry, A et al, “Underage Access to Online Alcohol Marketing Content: A YouTube Case Study” (2015) 50(1) Alcohol and Alcoholism 89 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 See the discussion in E Boyland and M Tatlow-Golden’s contribution to this Special Issue.

17 The argument could be made that these techniques may be regulated by Directive 2005/29 on unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices (UCP Directive): Directive 2005/29, OJ L 149, 11/6/2005, pp. 22–39. On the relationship between the AVMS Directive and the UCP Directive, see Garde, A, “The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive: A Successful Example of Legislative Harmonisation?” in P Sypris (ed.), The Judiciary, the Legislature and the Internal Market (Cambridge University Press, 2012)Google Scholar; and Garde, A, “Can the UCP Directive Really be a Vector of Legal Certainty?” in W Van Boom, A Garde and O Akseli (eds), The European Unfair Commercial Practices Directive: Impact, Enforcement Strategies and National Legal Systems (Abingdon, Routledge, 2014)Google Scholar.

18 Regulation 1924/2006, OJ L 404, 30.12.2006, pp. 9–25.

19, and in particular van Meer, F, “Developmental differences in the brain response to unhealthy food cues: an fMRI study of children and adults” (2016) 104 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1515 Google Scholar.

20 Regulation 1924/2006, supra, note 18.

21 Art. 4. On this question, see Friant-Perrot, M and Garde, A, “From BSE to Obesity: EFSA’s Growing Role in the EU’s Nutrition Policy” in A Alemanno and S Gabbi, Foundations of EU Food Law and Policy: Ten Years of the European Food Safety Authority (Farnham, Ashgate, 2013)Google Scholar.

22 The WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity clearly reiterated the importance for States to adopt nutrient profiling systems; Final Report (World Health Organization, Geneva, 2016).

23 Audiovisual Media Services and Connected Devices: Past and Future Perspectives, COM(2012) 203 final.

24 ibid 9.

25 ibid 11.

26 ibid 15.

27 COM(2016) 287 final.

29 Preamble, para. 10.

30 Preamble, para. 1.

31 Preamble, para. 3.

32 Insertion of Chapter IXa.

33 Directive 2005/29, supra note 17; Garde (2012), supra, note 17; and Garde (2014), supra, note 17.

34 The Commission’s reference to “effective enforcement” in the general provision it proposes to introduce on codes of conduct, “including when appropriate effective and proportionate sanctions” does not modify the assessment of the extent to which the Commission has failed to take evidence on board: see Art. 4(7).

35 See the Impact Assessment SWD(2016) 168 final, at p. 12; and the Ex-post REFIT evaluation of the AVMSD, SWD(2014) 170 final, at p. 54.

36 The fundamental rights taken into consideration by the proposal are listed at p. 11 of the explanatory notes accompanying the proposal, and at para. 39 of the preamble. The rights of the child appears, but is not mentioned again, and the right to health, Art. 35 of the Charter, is not mentioned at all.

37 For example, nearly 40 children’s rights, family, consumer, public health, alcohol control, and medical organisations called on Members of the European Parliament for ambitious action to free Europe’s children, youth and parents from aggressive marketing of products harmful to health and future well-being: see (September 2016) (last accessed 24 May 2017). See also European Public Health Alliance, Self-regulation: a False Promise for Public Health? (2016), (last accessed 24 May 2017).

38 A8-0192/2017.

39 In the draft resolution, it is proposed to suppress all reference to the WHO nutrient profiling model: Amendment 13. For its part, the Internal Market referred to “national or international nutritional guidelines, such as the ones developed in the framework of the Commission’s Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health and the WHO Regional Office for Europe’s nutrient profile model”, thus putting the Platform commitments on the same level as the WHO’s nutrient profiling model: Amendment 8.

40 Point VIII of the Explanatory Statement.

41 Amendment 63. See also Amendment 65 relating specifically to product placement: it is proposed to ban product placement in “children’s programmes or content aimed primarily at children”, rather than in “programmes with a significant children’s audience”, as the Commission had proposed.

44 It is interesting that, only a few weeks after publishing a report on the labelling of alcoholic beverages, in which the Commission gave one year to the industry to propose “a harmonised approach aiming to provide consumers with information about the ingredients present in alcoholic beverages and the nutritional value of alcoholic beverages” (COM(2017) 58 final), Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis is due to participate in Eurocare seminar on “Self Regulation is No Regulation: The Case for Protecting Children from Alcohol Marketing”: (last accessed 24 May 2017).

45 For a discussion of this principle, see Garde, supra, note 5; and Bartlett and Garde, supra, note 5.

46 See Case C-8/74 Dassonville ECLI:EU:C:1974:82, para. 5, “all trading rules engaged by Member States which are capable of hindering, directly or indirectly, actually or potentially, intra-Community trade are to be considered as measure having an effect equivalent to quantitative restrictions”; and Case C-76/90 Säger ECLI:EU:C:1991:331, para. 12, “[Art. 56 TFEU] requires not only the elimination of all discrimination against a person providing services … but also the abolition of any restriction, even if it applies without distinction … when it is liable to prohibit or otherwise impede the activities of a provider of services”.

47 See, for example, Case C-40/82 Commission v UK [1984] ECLI:EU:C:1984:33, para. 24, in which requiring importers of poultry meat from all Member States other than Ireland and Denmark to apply for a licence was caught by the treaty as a matter of course, but could potentially be justified.

48 Case C-120/78 Cassis de Dijon [1979] ECLI:EU:C:1979:42.

49 Case C-416/00 Moreallato [2003] ECLI:EU:C:2003:475.

50 Case C-368/95 Familiapress [1997] ECLI:EU:C:1997:325.

51 Germany v Parliament and Council, supra, note 12, para. 99.

52 For commentary on the constitutional limits placed by Tobacco Advertising on the EU’s ability to regulate advertising, see Geber, supra, note 7.

53 Case C-292/92 Hunermund [1993] ECLI:EU:C:1993:932, para. 23.

54 See Case C-267/91 Keck and Mithouard [1993] ECLI:EU:C:1993:905, para. 16.

55 Opinion of Advocate General Jacobs in Case C-412/93 Leclerc-Siplec [1995] ECLI:EU:C:1994:393, paras. 19–21.

56 Case C-239/02 Douwe Egberts [2004] ECLI:EU:C:2004:445, para. 52. See also Case C-34/95 De Agostini [1997] ECLI:EU:C:1997:344, para. 42; Case C-405/98 Gourmet [2001] ECLI:EU:C:2001:135, para. 21. For academic commentary, see A Kaczorowska, “Gourmet can have his Keck and eat it!” (2004) 10(4) European Law Journal 479; G Straetmans, “Case C-405/98, Konsumentombudsmannen (KO) v. Gourmet International Products AB (GIP), Judgment of the Court (Sixth Chamber) of 8 March 2001” (2002) 39 Common Market Law Review 1407.

57 Gourmet, ibid, para. 39.

58 On the increasingly broad scope of Art. 34 TFEU, see Oliver, P, “Of trailers and jet skis: is the case law on Article 34 TFEU hurtling in a new direction?” (2009) 33 Fordham International Law Journal 1423 Google Scholar. On Art. 56 TFEU, see

Enchelmaier, S, “Always at your service (within limits): the ECJ’s case law on Article 56 TFEU (2006-11)” (2011) 36(5) European Law Review 615 Google Scholar.

59 Case C-333/14 Scotch Whisky [2016] ECLI:EU:C:2015:845.

60 Alemanno, A, “Balancing free movement and public health: the case of minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotch Whisky ” (2016) 53 Common Market Law Review 1037 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 1048–1049.

61 It is clear that, following the Commission v Italy and Mickelsson and Roos judgments, the idea of market access is now pivotal to the question of whether Art. 34 TFEU is breached: I Lianos, “In memoriam Keck: The reformation of the EU law on the free movement of goods” (2014) University College London CLES Research Paper Series 5/2014; Jansson, M and Kalimo, H, “De minimis meets ‘Market Access’: Transformations in the substance – and the syntax – of EU free movement law?” (2014) 51 Common Market Law Review 523 Google Scholar.

62 Wilsher, D, “Does Keck discrimination make any sense? An assessment of the non-discrimination principle within the European Single Market” (2008) 33(1) European Law Review 3 Google Scholar.

63 Nic Shuibhne, N and Maci, M, “Proving public interest: The growing impact of evidence in free movement case law” (2013) 50(4) Common Market Law Review 965 Google Scholar.

64 The Scotch Whisky litigation, initiated in the Scottish courts in 2012, is currently still on appeal to the UK Supreme Court, after the CJEU and Court of Session Inner House have ruled on the issue.

65 Case C-262/02 Commission v France (loi evin) [2004] ECLI:EU:C:2004:431, para. 30.

66 Gourmet, supra, note 56.

67 Case C-17/93 Van der Veldt [1994] ECLI:EU:C:1994:299, para. 29.

68 Case C-446/08 Solgar Vitamin’s [2010] ECLI:EU:C:2010:233.

69 The connection between the protection of public health and the need to restrict marketing should be made. For an example where the packaging requirements were not sufficiently connected to the protection of public health, see: Moreallato, supra, note 49, para. 40.

70 Case C-434/04 Ahokainen [2006] ECLI:EU:C:2006:609, para. 32.

71 Case C-304/84 Muller [1986] ECLI:EU:C:1986:194, para. 17.

72 Commission v France, supra, note 65, para. 24.

73 Douwe Egberts, supra, note 56, para. 44; Case T-100/15 Dextro Energy [2016] ECLI:EU:T:2016:150, paras. 82–83.

74 Gourmet, supra, note 56, para. 34.

75 Van der Veldt, supra, note 67, para. 31.

76 ibid para. 30.

77 See Alemanno, supra, note 60, 1048–1049; Bartlett, O and Garde, A, “EU public health law and policy – on the rocks? A few sobering thoughts on the growing EU alcohol problem” in T Hervey et al., Research Handbook on EU Health Law and Policy (Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2017)Google Scholar.

78 ibid.

79 Douwe Egberts, supra, note 56, para. 41.

80 Nic Shuibhne and Maci, supra, note 63, 1005.

81 Bartlett and Garde, supra, note 79.

82 See Alemanno, supra, note 60, 1060.

83 Scotch Whisky, supra, note 59, para. 55.

84 ibid, para. 56.

85 Garde, A, “Freedom of Commercial Expression and Public Health Protection: The Principle of Proportionality as a Tool to Strike the Balance” in L Gormley and N Nic Shuibhne (eds), From Single Market to Economic Union – Essays in Honour of John Usher (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012) 117 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

86 Dextro Energy, supra, note 73, paras. 47–50.

87 Scotch Whisky, supra, note 59, para. 38.

88 De Agostini, supra, note 56, para. 46.

89 Muller, supra, note 71, para. 18.

90 See for example Case C-491/01 British American Tobacco [2002] ECLI:EU:C:2002:741.

91 Case C-477/14 Pillbox 38 [2016] ECLI:EU:C:2016:324, para. 113.

92 Solgar Vitamin’s, supra, note 68, para. 61.

93 Philip Morris Brands, supra, note 5.

94 Phillip Morris Brands, supra, note 5, para. 111.

95 ibid, para. 112.

96 ibid, para. 113.

97 One should also note that the WHO Recommendations urge the Member States to include monitoring and evaluation provisions in any policy frameworks they adopt. The inclusion of sunset clauses in these policy frameworks (in which Member States formally commit to review legislation in light of evidential developments) based on the commitment to policy learning encouraged by the WHO Recommendations could increase the proportionality of controls on food marketing to children; Scotch Whisky, supra, note 59, para. 57, and the Opinion of the Advocate General at para. 85. See also Veit, S and Jantz, B, “Sunset Legislation: Theoretical Reflections and International Experiences” in A Alemanno et al (eds), Better Business Regulation in a Risk Society (New York, Springer, 2013) 267 Google Scholar.

98 See, for example, Stuckler, D et al., “Manufacturing epidemics: The role of global producers in increased consumption of unhealthy commodities including processed foods, alcohol and tobacco” (2012) 9(6) PLoS Med e1001235 Google Scholar.