COMMENT: Legal changes to benefit Swedish drinkers
Under current state law, Swedish consumers are only allowed to bring alcohol into Sweden for their own use if they do so personally. In the event that Swedish individuals are unable to physically transport the product into the country themselves, their only option is to request 'Systembolaget', the national alcohol retail monopoly, to transport it into Sweden on their behalf. They are not allowed to request other intermediaries to do so.
After assessing the laws, the European Commission has told Sweden that it must allow consumers to purchase alcohol from other EU countries through independent intermediaries. Although the EC's letter to the Swedish authorities is only a "reasoned opinion", it could pre-empt court action if Sweden does not comply.
Indeed, the Swedish authorities have argued that the ban is necessary for health protection reasons. However, the commission, in its continued battle to counteract national provisions hindering free trade, has re-iterated this week that it believes that an individual residing in Sweden should not be prevented from purchasing products available on the market in other EU member states.
In responding to the Swedish authorities, the commission expressed the view that protecting human health from the effects of excessive alcohol consumption could be achieved by other means than restricting trade between the EU member states.
The move is likely to be well received by Swedish consumers, whose purchase of alcohol within national borders is often restricted by high prices. This legal development means that Swedish drinkers may now be able to order drinks over the Internet or by mail order from other countries. Sweden is also currently phasing out limits on the amount of alcohol that Swedes can bring back from trips to other EU countries.
Denmark, a market known for more liberal attitudes towards drinking and its comparatively lower prices, looks set to benefit from both of these developments. This can only be good news for Denmark's dominant domestic producer, Carlsberg, which will be more than happy to see units cross the Nordic shores.
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