hidden europe 58

Butter Trips

by hidden europe

Picture above: The German island of Helgoland enjoys an unusual status outside the European Union's customs area, and that means that ferries bound for Helgoland may offer duty-free sales (photo © hidden europe).


There once was a time when passengers would smuggle butter on trains running from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland. And more recently in Germany, budget-conscious shoppers would go one a boat trip to buy cheap butter. We take a look at the duty-free trade on ferries in European waters.

It was 20 years ago this summer that duty-free sales on inner-EU shipping journeys were abolished. With effect from 1 July 1999, passengers could no longer pick up duty-free cigarettes, wines and spirits on ferry journeys between EU ports. The booze cruise from Sweden to Germany or from England over to France no longer held quite the appeal it once did.

There were those who had argued that the abolition of duty-free sales would have a disruptive effect on the international ferry market and lead to the closure of routes. The argument was based on the transport subsidy hypothesis, viz. that retail income from on-board sales helped keep ferry services afloat.

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