France has been referred to the European Court of Justice over a ban on alcohol advertising which prevents the televising of some sporting events held outside France.

Known as the Loi Evin, the French law forbids any visible advertising of alcohol and tobacco brands on TV, including billboard ads and sponsors’ names on the shirts of soccer players.

French TV watchdog the CSA recently clarified the law to deal with cross-border programming broadcast in France, following pressure from the European Commission and the drinks trade. It ruled that international sporting events would not be subject to Loi Evin, but the law would still apply to matches involving France.

Such a refinement did not go far enough for the EC and internal market commissioner Frederik Bolkestein. “The final version of this code is not adequate, in terms of both its content and legal form, to allow for the satisfactory removal of the barriers it had contested in its reasoned opinion,” said an EC statement.

France, however, has refused to amend the law any further. “Unfortunately nothing has changed,” commented a spokesman for Bolkestein. “In desperation we are referring this to the court.”

The decision was welcomed by the World Federation of Advertisers. “It underlines that the Loi Evin has cross-border implications,” said public affairs manager Daniel Krebber, who added that the move could help overturn similar national restrictions with multinational implications, such as Greece’s ban on TV toy advertising and Sweden’s embargo on ads for alcohol products.

“The Commission takes the lead in fighting for the single market in Europe,” continued Krebber. “What it is showing today is that if you mess around with commercial communications, you also mess around with the single market.”

News source: Advertising Age - International Daily