The European Commission has told Sweden that it must allow consumers to purchase alcohol from abroad using an independent intermediary.

At present under Swedish law, private individuals are, under certain conditions, only allowed to bring alcohol into Sweden for their own use, if they do so personally.

However, if consumers in Sweden cannot themselves physically transport the product into the country, their only option is to request Systembolaget, the national alcohol retail monopoly, to bring it in on their behalf. They are not allowed to request other intermediaries to do so.

The Swedish authorities argue that the ban is necessary for health protection reasons.

However, the Commission said yesterday that it believes that an individual residing in Sweden should not be precluded from purchasing products available on the market in other Member States.

"National provisions hindering such access create a trade barrier, which is not remedied by allowing consumers to request Systembolaget to bring in alcohol. The Commission's view is that protecting human health from the effects of excessive alcohol consumption could be achieved by other means that restrict trade between the Member States less," it said.

The result of this is that Swedish drinkers may, among other things, may now be able to order drinks over the internet or by mail-order from abroad.

The EC's letter to the Swedish authorities is only a "reasoned opinion", however it could pave the way to court action if Sweden does not comply.