22nd Oct 2020

Sweden to lobby Barroso on alcohol monopoly

  • Swedish think Barroso should cut down on drinking (Photo: EUobserver)

The 50 year-old Swedish alcohol retail monopoly Systembolaget has launched a birthday campaign to convince the European Commission that a monopoly on alcohol is necessary for public health - pointing to the lowest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the Nordic alcohol nanny state.

On Tuesday (22 November) some 70 Swedish and Finnish newspapers, and the Financial Times, will publish an open letter from Systembolaget to the European commission's president, Jose Manuel Barroso, explaining why Mr Barroso (as a symbol of Europe) should cut down on alcohol consumption.

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To accompany the letter, a cartoon "crash course" information film on the dangers of alcohol will be broadcast on website, created for the occasion.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and EU commission statistics, Europeans drink twice as much as people on other continents, and the rate of alcohol-related deaths is over 600,000 per year. The rate in Sweden is, on the other hand, among the lowest in Europe.

"Alcohol is not a commodity just like any other commodity. We want to start a discussion about that on an EU level", Systembolaget spokesperson Bjorn Rydberg told EUobserver from Stockholm.

Mr Rydberg pointed out that the Swedish concern does not only apply to where people buy their liquor, but also to new EU rules on distance shopping, cross-border booze cruises and Internet sales of alcohol to Sweden.

Swedish monopoly highlighted

Swedes can only buy alcoholic beverages in non-profit state-run shops, and with a substantially high level of tax on every bottle.

When joining the EU in 1995, Sweden successfully argued in favour of keeping the monopoly in order to prevent a violation of drinking age limits, maintain high prices and limited accessibility to alcohol; and therefore help protect public health.

"The monopoly does not discriminate exporters of alcohol from other EU countries, as they all compete on equal grounds against one importer - the Swedish state-run retailer", Bjorn Rydberg explained.

The EU court tried the Swedish import monopoly in 1997 on grounds that it violates the principle of free circulation of goods within the union, with a verdict in favour of the Swedish model.

The European Court of Justice is also expected to shortly begin examining the country's ban on the sale of alcohol over the Internet.

Anitra Steen, director of the Swedish Systembolaget, says that each EU contry has the right to a trade monopoly.

"The ruling in favour of the Swedish pharmacy monopoly earlier this year made it absolutely clear", she writes in the letter to Mr Barroso.

Last summer, the EU court decided that a similar monopoly on pharmaceuticals in Sweden was in line with EU law.

"It means that Swedish monopolies have been cleared twice", Bjorn Rydberg said, with Sweden's monopoly authority trumping EU free market regulations.

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