Finland: Opinion of the Advocate-General of the EU Court of Justice

According to an Advocate-General of the EU Court of Justice, the Finnish retail marketing authorisation for commercial import of alcoholic beverages complies with EU law. On 9 July, the Advocate-General gave his opinion on a request for a preliminary ruling submitted by the Helsinki Court of Appeal.

By their request for a preliminary ruling, the Court of Appeal wants to find out whether the Finnish system complies with EU law when it comes to beverage packaging duty and the retail marketing authorisation required by the Alcohol Act for commercial import of alcoholic beverages.

The request for a preliminary ruling is connected to a court case against an Estonian enterprise. The Finnish people have been able to order alcoholic beverages via the website of the enterprise. The entrepreneur has then packed the beverages into his own car and transported them to Finland without paying any tax. According to both European and Finnish legislation on excise duties, Finnish excise duty on alcohol must be paid for alcoholic beverages ordered to Finland. Additionally, the Finnish Alcohol Act prohibits any trading of alcoholic beverages from abroad via the internet or by another method of distance selling if the vendor takes care of the transport to Finland by the help of a transport company or transports the beverages him/herself.

The Advocate-General considers it important that the ownership of alcoholic beverages purchased from outside Finland is transferred to the purchaser outside the borders of Finland. This prevents a parallel sales channel from being formed besides the Finnish Alcohol Company Alko. Therefore, it is important that the transport of alcoholic beverages is clearly separated from the operations of the vendor.

According to the opinion of the Advocate-General, EU laws and regulations are not an obstacle to the Finnish system with beverage packaging duty. Additionally, Alko’s retail trade monopoly laid down by the Finnish Alcohol Act is not in breach of EU laws and regulations either, provided that the structure and operations of the monopoly are organised in such a way that the conditions for purchasing or selling goods do not discriminate citizens of any Member State. The trade of goods imported from other Member States must not be treated, legally or factually, in a more unfavourable way than the trade of domestic goods. It is the duty of a national court to verify this.

The opinion of the Advocate-General is an independent opinion on the right interpretation of EU law and it does not bind the European Court of Justice. The time for announcing the actual judgement of the EU Court of Justice will be determined later. Before that, Finland will not take any measures but follows the situation closely.

Source: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health