Sweden defends state alcohol monopoly

Sweden's government said on Tuesday that it would defend its state alcohol monopoly and tax policy after a European court ruled a Swedish ban on individuals importing alcohol was illegal.

“Swedish alcohol policy stands firm,” Public Health Minister Maria Larsson said in a statement.

According to Larsson, a ruling by the EU court in November stating that goods imported to Sweden are to be taxed according to Swedish regulations was of greater importance in maintaining the country’s restrictive alcohol policy.

“As taxes are just as high when making purchases over the internet the interest (in importing privately) will be moderate,” Larsson said.

Finance Minister Anders Borg said the government would work hard to ensure that the state receives taxes for privately imported alcohol and that state tax revenues were not changed.

“We will do everything in our power to protect the alcohol policy and the tax rates,” he added.

Enterprise Minister Maud Olofsson echoed these sentiments.

“We have a restrictive alcohol policy and we have chosen Systembolaget as our distributor. And we will defend that,” she told news agency TT.

Sven Andreasson from the Swedish National Institute of Public Health was disappointed by the verdict.

“It’s a blow for public health,” he said.

Similar public health concerns could also be heard from the opposition benches, with Left Party leader Lars Ohly urging Sweden to exercise “civil disobedience” against the EU ruling.

According to Ohly, a reduction in prices would contribute to increased alcohol consumption.

“And that will lead to increased criminality, drunk driving and more children growing up close to alcohol addiction,” he said.

The case concerned Klas Rosengren and other Swedish nationals, who ordered cases of Spanish wine through a Danish website.

The wine was confiscated by customs and criminal proceedings were brought.

Rosengren, who found himself back in the centre of attention on Tuesday, welcomed the court’s decision.

“It was very much correct of course, from my point of view. But I hadn’t been expecting it,” he told TT.

Many people who are interested in ordering alcohol on the internet fear that the impact of Swedish taxes will wipe out the price benefits. Last year the EU ruled that people can only avoid paying alcohol tax in their home countries if they transport the alcohol themselves.

But Kari Sjöblom from family-run import company Vinboden is keen to allay such fears.

“Prices in Germany are so low that it will still be cheaper when the Swedish tax is added,” said Sjöblom.

TT/AFP/The Local