NordAN supports Finnish Governments plan to further define alcohol distance sales

Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network´s (NordAN) statement to the European Commission on the bill proposed by the Finnish government to amend the Alcohol Act (2018/0324/FIN).

NordAN supports Finland´s proposed amendment to the alcohol law to further safeguard that the health of its citizens are protected and that specific economic interests wouldn´t undermine the purpose of that law.

The proposed amendments clarify the role of retail monopoly in cross-border distance sales, as well as the role of the licensing regulations. In other words, this is a clarification of existing regulations. This notification procedure should therefore be based on an examination of whether the proposed amendment is consistent with European Union law. This has already been reviewed by the Supreme Court of Finland in the ruling KKO 2018: 49, in which the Supreme Court has applied the preliminary ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Case C-198/14 Visnapuu.

The Commission should be aware that during the case the defendant argued that the Finnish Alcohol Act was in this respect in breach of European Union law (on the grounds that the Commission had set out in its detailed opinion concerning the previous notification No. 2016/653/FIN).

This was examined in detail in a thorough process that lasted, in the national courts and in the Court of Justice of the European Union, for a period of nine years. In its conclusions, the Finnish Supreme Court ruled that the retail monopoly and licensing system did not conflict with EU law. In particular, the Supreme Court referred to the fact that the national regulations concerning the alcohol retail monopoly’s e-commerce and delivery points must be assessed in light of Article 37 TFEU and not in light of articles 34 and 36. As this final judgment by a national court applied the preliminary ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union, it should be considered definitive.

NordAN supports the standpoint of the Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention EHYT that Finland has a well-functioning alcohol policy grounded in public health, of which the national alcohol retail monopoly is a key element. Opening cross-border sales to delivery beyond the alcohol monopoly retail system would in practice lead to dismantling the alcohol retail monopoly. The current alcohol sale structure is working well, has wide public support, and is in line with the European Union law.

In conclusion, with high respect to the European Court of Justice, we ask the Commission to ensure that any observations on the Finnish Alcohol Act and the Finnish alcohol monopoly, and on their compliance with the European Union law, will be based on accurate knowledge and understanding of the significance of the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union(C-198/14 Visnapuu) and of the Finnish Supreme Court (KKO 2018: 49).

Alcohol is a regional, national and European issue. NordAN is calling for a Single Market with high public health standards that supports Member States’ efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm. Cross-border issues are one of the main obstacles why the Member States cannot reach their national alcohol policy public health goals and requires thus special attention with a focus on health and security of States citizens instead of various interests of economic operators.

NordAN´s statement was submitted to European Commission on October 8, 2018.