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Rural sales of locally produced wines and spirits to be allowed in Sweden?

>> Thursday, December 23, 2010

There is currently a debate raging in Sweden on an issue that seen from the outside seems peripheral to say the least. Nevertheless it has escalated to become the most important item in the Swedish government’s review of its alcohol policy. Sweden has a monopoly on alcohol sales in the retail sector. The only shop where you can buy alcohol (stronger than 2.5% ABV) is the government owned Systembolaget shops. Since last 10 to 15 years several small, often rural, producers of wine and spirits have popped up. But since there is a monopoly on alcohol sales they cannot sell their wines (or spirits) at the door, where it is produced. And if the monopoly chooses not to list their product, the only option they have is to export.

At the end of the year a government task force will release a report with a proposal for new alcohol regulations. It is not expected to lead to much change. One of the items expected is that it will be possible for sushi restaurants to serve alcohol (currently you have to serve hot food). And it is this thing with rural sales of wines and spirits. It is a hotly debated item since a) the four parties in the government alliance don’t agree. Some of think it is one way of making rural Sweden more dynamic and to create job opportunities. Others think not and are afraid it will loosen Sweden’s strict drinking laws. And b) some say that it will lead to the demise of the whole monopoly (one can only hope, we say!). In particular, some say that since EU regulations forbid favouring your own country’s products compared to similar products made in other EU countries (e.g. with tariffs or with rules that favour national products), if rural producers are allowed to sell their own products then they must also be allowed to sell products from wine producers in other EU countries.

Read about it in The Local: “Swedish government split on rural booze sales” where for example the liberal party’s spokesperson Carl B Hamilton is quoted as arguing that it may lead to that the EU challenges the Systembolaget exemption from EU competition rules and thus threaten the Systembolaget’s existence. (It is not mentioned in the article though that Hamilton is also a board member of the potentially threatened Systembolaget.)


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