The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled Sweden's ban on private consumers importing alcoholic beverages is an "unjustified quantitative restriction on the free movement of goods" under European Union (EU) law and cannot be legally justified by claims it reduces alcohol consumption.

Under Swedish law, alcohol imports are only permitted by the retail monopoly Systembolaget. The law forces individuals to go through the monopoly to order alcohol, paying a margin of 17%, in addition to administrative and transport costs incurred by Systembolaget.

"The fact that private individuals are prohibited from importing alcoholic beverages amounts to a quantitative restriction on the free movement of goods," the ECJ said today (5 June).

Rejecting health justifications for the system, the court noted Systembolaget has not controlled imports "by reference to maximum quantities of alcohol", adding "the prohibition of importation is less (about) limiting alcohol consumption…(than)…favouring Systembolaget for the distribution of alcoholic beverages."