“Current trends” in Nordic countries

Ten years ago, in 2012, the Nordic Council’s Welfare Committee discussed the future alcohol policy in the Nordic region. A clear 12-point proposal was made to the Nordic Council of Ministers, which recommended, among other things “to consider the introduction of a total ban on advertising and marketing of alcohol aimed at young people”, “to introduce alcolocks for commercial drivers”, “to investigate how to ensure public access to lobbying activities from the multinational companies in the Nordic countries” and “to work for a blood alcohol content limit of 0.2 per mille for the operation of all motor vehicles”.

The Welfare Committee justified the need for such a pan-Nordic alcohol policy with changing times that did not promise good for the traditional Nordic alcohol policy. “Current trends show that the policy is under pressure, both from the international tobacco and alcohol industries and from farmers who wish to sell alcohol on their farms. All these stakeholders want to dismantle parts of the alcohol policy measures in the Nordic countries. The Welfare Committee, therefore, requests the Council of Ministers to prepare a revised alcohol policy plan before 2014.”

The Nordic Council of Ministers did not adopt the proposal, partly explaining that they do not see a need for such a regional approach, as there is already the European Alcohol Strategy and the WHO’s Global Alcohol Strategy. 

In fact, the EU’s Alcohol Strategy had a mandate until 2012, and since then, the European Union has argued in what capacity the Union should work with alcohol problems. As for the minimum agreement necessary for regulating alcohol globally, the WHO global strategy and other global approaches play a critical role. However, these documents don’t generate much value for the Nordic countries, which are far ahead of the rest of the world. Nordic countries need a regional agreement that takes into account the existing policies and situations.

Ten years ago, the NC Welfare Committee understood the “current trends” correctly, as, since 2012, we have witnessed a strong push against the traditional Nordic understanding of alcohol policies. Iceland has struggled with different political initiatives which have aimed to abolish the alcohol retail monopoly and allow alcohol advertising, all Nordic countries have moved towards farm sales. Finland experienced the most decisive setback, raising the maximum strength of alcoholic beverages sold in retail stores to 5.5% alcohol by volume. That change lifted the 4.7-per cent limit that has been in force since the 1960s.

There have been developments that have prioritised the Nordic cooperation in the Nordic region. NCM commissioned “The future of Nordic health cooperation” report by Bo Könberg in 2014. A seasoned politician and former Minister of Health Care and Social Security in Sweden Bo Könberg raised alcohol as one of the priority themes where he saw a need for closer Nordic cooperation. In 2016, the Nordic health ministers agreed to establish a new Public Health Arena in which these diverse topics would be addressed. 

So where’s the problem? Nordic Council’s initial proposal focused largely on policy recommendations, while the Public Health Arena’s mandate is limited to sharing experiences with regard to alcohol abuse. 

NordAN has always stood for the pan-Nordic alcohol policy. But, unfortunately, we haven’t seen any progress within the last decade. During that time, Nordic countries have discussed how extensive this cooperation should be. 

It is again time to state that the current trends are worrisome, and we need a clear decision and steps to safeguard the policies that protect public health and our societies.

Lauri Beekmann
Executive director, NordAN