DECEMBER 1, 1997
Politics in Brussels
THE battle over the European Union tobacco ban comes to a head this week when the 15 EU health ministers meet in Brussels to vote on whether to ban tobacco advertising. Britain is insisting that it will only support such a ban if Grand Prix racing is excluded from the law.
In order to pass through the Health Council the ban needs what is called a "qualified majority". Members states have weighted votes on the Council loosely proportional to their relative population sizes and a proposal must receive 62 of the 87 votes in order to pass. Those in favor of the ban are Belgium (5 votes), Finland (3), France (10), Ireland (5), Italy (10), Luxembourg (2), Portugal (5), Spain (5) and Sweden (8). A total of 53 votes. Austria (4) says it will abstain while the Dutch (5) say they will vote for the ban only if the Dutch vote is needed to settle the issue.
Currently Britain (10 votes), Germany (10 votes), Greece (5 votes) and Denmark (3 votes) are all against the ban but if the law is modified to exempt F1 Britain will switch its vote and the law will go through. Other member states say they will not accept the exemption of F1 and Britain is under pressure to compromise with a phased-in ban in F1 of between 7 to 10 years. The exemption would also have to apply to other forms of motor racing to avoid competition problems.
In addition to pressure in Europe the British government is facing severe criticism at home. Last week two parliamentary committees attacked exempting F1 from the ban.
The Health Select Committee said F1 should be treated in the same way as all the other sports, while the European Legislation Committee concluded that it was difficult to judge whether F1 would carry out its threat to pull out of Europe.
The committees have forced the government to have a vote in the House of Commons before the Health Council meets and if this does not happen Britain will be prevented from voting at the EU meeting although the ban will still be defeated.
In recent days there has been considerable lobbying in Brussels, including a delegation from British American Tobacco.
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