cares trade-policies eurocare-welcomes-the-finnish-governments-proposed-amendment-to-the-alcohol-law

Eurocare welcomes the Finnish Governments proposed amendment to the alcohol law.


Measures in the Act amending the Alcohol Act are in line with the latest evidence base in the field of alcohol policy. Finland has a well-functioning alcohol policy grounded in public health, of which the national alcohol retail monopoly is a key element. Opening cross-border sales to delivery beyond the alcohol monopoly retail system would in practice lead to dismantling the alcohol retail monopoly.

Finland has an alcohol retail monopoly, Alko, which in Finland holds the exclusive right to sell alcoholic beverages containing more than 5.5% alcohol by volume. The first stores were opened in 1932 and fully owned by the Government. Today Alko Inc is an independent limited company wholly-owned by the Finnish Government and administered and supervised by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

WHO has over the years called on governments to implement policies regarding the availability of alcoholic beverages as one of the key measures for curbing and reducing alcohol-related harm and related costs, also acknowledged UNODC, OECD and the World Economic Forum.

Physical availability of alcohol refers to the ease and convenience with which alcohol can be obtained. In many European countries, the access to alcohol has increased over the last decades. Regulating the physical availability of alcohol by placing restrictions on the eligibility to sell and purchase alcoholic beverages is one mechanism for preventing and reducing alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol and Cross Border Sales

The proposed amendments clarify the role of this retail monopoly in cross-border distance sales, as well as the role of the licensing regulations. In other words, this is a clarification of existing regulations. This notification procedure should therefore be based on an examination of whether the proposed amendment is consistent with European Union law.

This has already been reviewed by the Supreme Court of Finland in the ruling KKO 2018: 49, in which the Supreme Court has applied the preliminary ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Case C-198/14 Visnapuu. The Commission should be aware that during the case the defendant argued that the Finnish Alcohol Act was in this respect in breach of European Union law (on the grounds that the Commission had set out in its detailed opinion concerning the previous notification No. 2016/653/FIN). This was examined in detail in a thorough process that lasted, in the national courts and in the Court of Justice of the European Union, for a period of nine years. In its conclusions, the Finnish Supreme Court ruled that the retail monopoly and licensing system did not conflict with EU law. In particular, the Supreme Court referred to the fact that the national regulations concerning the alcohol retail monopoly's e-commerce and delivery points must be assessed in light of Article 37 TFEU and not in light of articles 34 and 36. As this final judgment by a national court applied the preliminary ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union, it should be considered definitive.

Eurocare supports the standpoint of the Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention EHYT, that the current Finnish alcohol retail monopoly is effectively alleviating the public health impact of alcohol use in Finland by regulating the availability of alcoholic beverages. In other words, preventing and reducing the negative consequences of alcohol use to individuals and to the society is the main goal of the Finnish alcohol retail monopoly. This specific goal justifies the existence of the alcohol retail monopoly in the first place and it is aligned with the goals and values of actors focused on prevention of alcohol-related harm.

Finland has a well-functioning alcohol policy grounded in public health, of which the national alcohol retail monopoly is a key element. Opening cross-border sales to delivery beyond the alcohol monopoly retail system would in practice lead to dismantling the alcohol retail monopoly. The current alcohol sale structure is working well, has wide public support, and is in line with the European Union law. The proposed amendments to the Alcohol Act would clarify and unify the interpretation of the Act and support the existing retail structure.
 
One of the objectives of public bodies should be to effectively protect people from risks and threats that they cannot tackle as individuals. The Finnish authorities have taken appropriate steps to update their current alcohol act.