Kohl will contest EC beer ruling

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The Independent Online
BONN - When Chancellor Helmut Kohl's thoughts turn to beer these days, he is less occupied by the vision of a cool bottle or three on a long summer's evening than by the chilling prospect of his countrymen becoming even more fed up with matters European than they already are, writes John Eisenhammer.

On his desk lies an irate missive from Herbert Frankenhauser, president of the German Institute for Pure Beer, warning Chancellor Kohl that yet another pillar of Teutonic civilisation risks being toppled by interfering Eurocrats.

'The beer purity regulations have the same symbolic value for the German consumer as the deutschmark,' wrote Mr Frankenhauser. In the same way as other EC countries are making a grab for the beloved currency, so European efforts to scupper the centuries-old beer reinheitsgebot (pure beer law) are 'a typical example of how the European institutions can bring the vision of European union into disrepute', thundered Mr Frankenhauser.

Sufficiently alarmed, the Chancellor has promised 'personally to intervene, wherever necessary', to turn the Euro-interferers back.

The reason for the hullabaloo is a new Brussels regulation on sweeteners in low-alcohol beer. It means that from next year, brewers in Germany will be allowed to put all the sorts of additives into their low-alcohol beers that the regulations on purity have hitherto outlawed. For Mr Frankenhauser, an MP for the conservative Christian Social Union, based in the beer-heartland of Bavaria, this marks the beginning of the end of a tradition begun in 1516.

Germany's brewing regulations state that beer can only contain barley, hops, yeast and water. A bitterly contested European Court decision in 1987 obliged the Germans to open their market to all sorts of beer, but allowed them to keep the regulations for their own brewers. With the introduction of sweeteners at home also allowed, purists fear the worst.

The 'villain' is a British MEP, Caroline Jackson, accused by Mr Frankenhauser of trying, 'under cover of so-called harmonisation principles, to scrap once and for all the beer purity regulations'.

Efforts by Martin Bangemann, the German Commissioner in Brussels, to stop the rot having failed, responsibility for defending German honour now rests with the Chancellor. A wine-drinker himself, Mr Kohl has, none the less, said: 'It's a priority.'