Proposed Changes To Alcohol Laws Based On Misunderstanding Of EU Rules - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Proposed Changes To Alcohol Laws Based On Misunderstanding Of EU Rules

Published November 18, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

The head of European Policy and leader of the Brussels office of IOGT-NTO, Kalle Dramstad, says that a recent bill due to be submitted to Icelandic Parliament on the online sale of alcohol is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the very EU rules it cites. Kalle wrote extensively on the subject in a blog post last week on the subject.

As reported last September, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir—long an advocate of allowing for the sale of alcohol in private shops—announced her intent to make several changes to Iceland’s alcohol laws, amongst them to allow for Icelanders to buy alcohol online. This, she said, needed to be done in order for Icelandic alcohol laws to be in harmony with the EU Geoblocking Directive, a regulation which addresses geographically based restrictions on online shopping.

However, Kalle points out a number of misconceptions about this reasoning, while at the same time contending that alcohol monopolies can reduce alcohol-related harm.

“Public health oriented alcohol retail monopolies are legal under EU rules,” Kalle writes. “This was confirmed by the European Court of Justice over 20 years ago and there are several alcohol retail monopolies that continue to exist within EU and EEA-countries: Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland are clear examples.”

In fact, Finland—an EU country—had their ban on the online sale of alcohol upheld by the European Court of Justice, even for instances of alcohol from other EU countries.

Kalle also contends that state monopolies on alcohol are beneficial for the public health.

“A systematic review of evidence carried out by the US Centre for Disease Control’s Preventive Services Task Force also showed how privatisation of alcohol retail sales is associated with a dramatic increase in alcohol consumption,” he writes. “They, therefore, strongly recommend against it. The evidence is clear that when profit interests and market forces are allowed into the alcohol retail market, not only do prices fall and consumption increase, but it also becomes significantly more difficult to ensure that licensing rules are followed. The Swedish alcohol monopoly Systembolaget has an age-check rate of over 95% – according to Systembolaget’s 2018 Responsibility Report. This number is unmatched by private retailers in countries where alcohol retail sales are privatised.”

For the record, IOGT-NTO, formed in 1970 from a merger between the Swedish chapter of the International Organisation of Good Templars and Nationaltemplarorden, a Christian Swedish temperance organisation, strongly advocates for total abstinence from alcohol, both amongst its own members and society at large.

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