On 5 August 1996, the European Commission announced its decision to
pursue a legal challenge to the UK’s Guest Beer provision, on the
grounds that it unfairly discriminated against imports. The provision
allows tenants of national brewers to buy one cask of conditioned beer
from a chosen supplier.
The Commission’s announcement sparked a campaign by CAMRA, the Campaign
for Real Ale, to overturn the decision which it saw as a threat to
consumer choice and to the livelihoods of hundreds of small brewers.
To ensure that the Guest Beer provision continued to serve the interests
of consumers and small brewers.
CAMRA tracked the issue for two years before the announcement, following
reports that an official complaint had been made about the Guest Beer
provision to the Commission by a British importer of German beer.
Initial efforts focused on advising the Commission and MEPs on the
likely outcome of any significant changes to the provision.
By liaising with groups such as the European Brewers’ Association,
research was carried out to counter the Commission’s claim that cask
conditioned beer was a predominantly British product.
The campaign escalated with the Commission’s announcement which came 24
hours before CAMRA’s National Beer Festival.
’It was a terrific opportunity,’ says CAMRA’s campaigns manager Stephen
Cox. ’We had a ready-made audience of journalists and MPs to whom we
could say, look at all these small brewers who could go out of business
if the Guest Beer disappeared.’
To encourage grass roots support from CAMRA members and the general
public, CAMRA produced 150,000 leaflets which were distributed to pubs,
beer festivals and local CAMRA branches. Political lobbying continued
with regular CAMRA briefings involving the DTI and the British Beer
Club, a group of British MEPs who took part in the discussions with the
The Commission’s legal challenge is currently on hold. In March, the DTI
announced consultation on an extension to the Guest Beer provision,
which it claims the Commission will support, and also clarified which
beers qualify as cask conditioned. The extension is supported by CAMRA
who says it will improve consumer choice.
CAMRA’s campaign needs to be considered as part of a wider effort by a
number of pressure groups to overturn the Commission’s challenge - which
is on hold, not at an end.
While CAMRA’s earlier literature was criticised by some as being
anti-Brussels, the general view from the brewing industry is that the
campaign was swift, vociferous and effective at harnessing public
opinion to its cause.
Client: CAMRA - the Campaign for Real Ale
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Saving the Guest Beer
Timescale: August 1996 - March 1997
Cost: pounds 7,000