Britain declares victory in EU tampon tax battle

LONDON – Tampons are the latest battleground in Britain’s difficult relationship with the European Union.

The British government has declared victory in its bid to remove an EU-imposed sales tax on women’s sanitary products. But opponents of U.K. membership in the 28-nation bloc say the tax is a prime example of Brussels meddling in national affairs.

Campaigners say tampons should not be subject to sales tax since other products considered to be essentials are exempt, including food, children’s clothing, books and newspapers.

British Treasury chief George Osborne said that EU leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed to let Britain cut the tax rate to zero, boasting: “We’ve achieved what no British government has even tried to achieve.”

Under the bloc’s rules, all 28 member states have to agree for a product to be exempted from goods and services tax, though individual countries can vary the rate on some items, including tampons. Since 2000, Britain has set the tax on sanitary products at the lowest possible level, 5 per cent. Many EU countries impose a tax of about 20 per cent on tampons and sanitary pads.

In a statement released Thursday, EU leaders said they supported a proposed change allowing member states to apply a sales tax “zero rating? for sanitary products.”

Robert Oxley, spokesman for U.K. campaign group Vote Leave, said Friday that the rule changes could take years to implement. He said the bloc had only conceded because of Britain’s looming June 23 vote on EU membership.

“Do we need to have a referendum every time we need to change a tax rate?” he said.

So-called “tampon taxes” have become an issue in several countries, with campaigners arguing they penalize woman for their biology.

Several U.S. states are considering scrapping the levies, and five women in New York recently filed a lawsuit that argues the tax is unconstitutional.

In a January interview, President Barack Obama said he had no idea why feminine hygiene products were taxed.