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European Law Monitor newsPints and miles will not disappear due to European Commission proposal

As indicated by Peter Mandelson at the Europe Day celebrations in London, the United Kingdom and Ireland will be allowed to keep units like the pint of beer and milk - and miles, yards, feet and inches on roads. The proposal is also important for the current trade relations with the United States as the European Commission has proposed to indefinitely extend the use of supplementary indications next to metric units.. The Commission proposal is based on the results of a public consultation in early 2007, which underlined the smooth functioning of the Directive 80/181/EEC. It allows that both metric and other measurements can continue to be used in the UK and Ireland, if so desired.

Vice President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy, said: "Our proposal will stabilise the current application of EU law, which has worked well over 27 years. Extending supplementary indications indefinitely is supported by EU industry and sends a clear signal to our US counterparts that the EU favours a trading environment free of barriers. [In return, I hope that the USA will also accept metric-only labelled goods on its territory. This proposal also honours the culture and traditions of Great-Britain and Ireland, which are important to the European Commission.]"

The Commission proposes to allow the UK and Ireland to keep the current exceptions without requiring these countries to fix a date for ending them. The exceptions concern the pint for milk in returnable bottles and beer and cider on draught, the mile for road signs and speed indications and the troy ounce for transactions in precious metals. The exception of the acre for land registration is no longer in use in either country and will be repealed. Finally the Commission clarifies the scope of the directive as being applicable to all domains covered by the current Treaties. It is therefore no longer necessary to single out certain fields of applicability.

Stakeholders were consulted during the 10-week period up to 1 March 2007. The proposal follows the unanimous recommendation of industry to lift the sundown clause for the United Kingdom and Ireland and to permit indefinitely the use of supplementary indications.

Background information Directive 80/181/EEC harmonised within the EU the legal units of measurement for expressing quantities, in accordance with the metric "International System of Units" (SI) adopted by the General Conference of Weights and Measures set up by the Metre Convention signed in Paris on 20 May 1875. The SI metric system is recognised under WTO/TBT as the international standard. The Directive ensures a common approach, removing the barriers to trade within the Internal Market due to units of measurement in line with the international standard.

The Directive allows the United Kingdom and Ireland the use exemptions and requires them to fix a date in order to phase these out. However, experience showed that these usages are local without any impact to the single market and not any impediment to cross-border trade.
The Directive authorises the use of supplementary indications in addition to the legal units of measurement laid down by the Directive, until 31 December 2009.

All reactions and the documents of the public consultation are available on: