Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention EHYT: Alcohol policy is primarily a national concern

In July 2018 Finnish Government notified European Commission about a plan to amend the Alcohol Act by defining distance selling. The bill clarified that cross-border distance sales of alcoholic beverages is not permitted. EHYT supported the bill with a contribution to the notification process, which was also backed by NordAN and Eurocare. The European Commission responded by stating that “the Commission is not convinced about the necessity and proportionality of the prohibition at issue.” Commissions detailed opinion extends the standstill period until 07-01-2019. The following is EHYT´s press release to Finnish media.

“On Tuesday (October 9, 2018), the European Commission published its opinion on the notification concerning the new Finnish Alcohol Act. Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the European Commissioner for Internal Market, presented the Commission’s view that based on the free movement of goods distance sales of all alcoholic beverages, including those above 5.5% of ethyl alcohol by volume, should be permitted also to retailers from other EU member states.

Allowing distance sales of alcoholic beverages above 5.5% from other EU-member states outside the Finnish alcohol monopoly, would consequently legalise distance sales by domestic retailers as well. Therefore, distance sales from other EU member states outside the State alcohol monopoly would effectively mean the abolishment of the monopoly and liberalization of sales of strong alcoholic beverages.

According to the latest surveys, 85% of Finns oppose liberalising sales of strong alcoholic beverages (Source: A survey on the public’s opinion on alcohol policy, 2018, available in Finnish).

Alcohol monopoly is not against EU regulations

When discussing the retail monopoly on alcoholic beverages above 5.5%, it should be kept in mind that the monopoly is indisputably in accordance with both EU regulations and the national law. According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU Article 37.1), national monopolies are permitted provided that the procurement and sales are conducted without discrimination against the nationals of member states.

– We find this to be clearly contradictory. The opinion of the Commission is not consistent with the treaty that allows monopolies. Significant decisions about alcohol policy are made on a national level. Finland has no legislative obligation on account of the Commission’s view on distance sales. Any conflict between the national law and EU regulations is settled in the Court of Justice of the European Union, says Juha Mikkonen, Executive Director of EHYT Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention.

However, distance sales by foreign retailers could be allowed in accordance with the Commission’s opinion. This can be achieved by giving distance sellers the opportunity to list their own products free of charge and based on their own notification in the selection of Alko’s online store, while keeping Alko in charge of the sales. This arrangement, which is already legal, would maintain the monopoly of Alko, and is in fact mentioned by the Commission in its statement.

The Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention does not act against or in favour of the State alcohol monopoly but aims in different ways to reduce the adverse effects of substance abuse on the Finnish population. Retail monopoly is a justified and effective approach to promoting public health and reducing the harms of alcohol consumption by means of alcohol policy.

– Many Finns might have forgotten that the purpose of Alko is specifically to carry out sales of alcoholic beverages responsibly and to reduce the adverse effects of alcohol. Alko for example handles the age limit control very efficiently. On the other hand, Alko could follow the example of Swedish Systembolaget in investing in the responsibility of its operation. Alcohol policy should never be conducted by placing the profits of the alcohol industry first, says Juha Mikkonen.

The harms of alcohol have extensive influence on the Finnish society as a whole

The moderate use of alcoholic beverages is an essential part of celebration for many Finns and therefore alcohol also has cultural significance as something positive and life enriching. Nevertheless, alcohol is not an ordinary commodity but one of the most significant causes of avoidable public health problems in the world.

The use of alcohol causes massive harm to society killing 3 million people worldwide every year. A far greater number of people than those dependent on alcohol are affected by accident-related deaths and other harms related to alcohol use.

– It is peculiar that in the Finnish debate an addiction-causing substance like alcohol is repeatedly presented as a symbol of freedom, says Mikkonen.

The following parties among others have expressed their opinion on the notification on the Finnish Alcohol Act:

EHYT Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention
Eurocare (European Alcohol Policy Alliance)
NordAN (Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network)