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EUROPEAN UNION

Sweden ‘saves’ moist snuff in EU battle

Swedish moist snuff users could breathe a sigh of tobacco-scented relief on Friday after the government announced that a new EU tobacco directive will allow Sweden to continue to determine the product's ingredients and flavour.

Sweden 'saves' moist snuff in EU battle

“We have saved the snuff,” public health minister Maria Larsson said after Friday’s EU meeting in Luxemburg.

The meeting had been seen as something of a judgement day for moist snuff for which Sweden secured a key EU opt out when it signed up to the union in 1994.

The government had previously given up its fight to allow Sweden to export the smokeless tobacco product across the EU and this new battle was billed as decisive for the future of the product in Sweden.

The EU commission had previously sought to regulate the tobacco content and flavours of moist snuff as part of a new EU tobacco directive designed to restrict use of tobacco products and protect young people.

Maria Larsson welcomed these aspects of the directive.

“Firstly, I am very happy that we have got a new tobacco directive where there is such a strong and broad agreement among European countries to do everything we can to protect children and youth from starting to use tobacco products.”

“And the other thing I’m happy for is that we have actually saved the snuff and may decide the content, product marketing, ingredients and distinctive flavours.”

Many Swedish snus manufacturers have added aromas in recent years. General brand snus has bergamot orange flavouring while Göteborgs Rapé has a taste of juniper berries.

Other new types of snus have been introduced recently which feature different types of mint, liquorice and eucalyptus flavours.

The new tobacco directive will require more written warnings as well as off-putting pictures to be placed on packaging but the EU has previously retreated from a demand that all cigarettes be sold in uniform packaging.

The directive will now be considered by the European Parliament’s Health and Environment Committee in July, after which the EU Parliament will review it at its session in Strasbourg in September.

Moist snuff manufacturer Swedish Match responded with caution to Friday’s news.

“For us it is a bit early to draw conclusions about what the consequences are. We would like to see the proposal in its entirety before we conduct an analysis,” said communications director Patrik Hildingsson.

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Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU’s minimum wage plan?

EU labour ministers meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the European Commission's planned minimum wage directive. Why is the proposal causing such unease in Sweden?

Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU's minimum wage plan?
Customers visit a branch of McDonalds in Stockholm. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

What’s happening on Monday? 

EU ministers responsible for employment and social affairs, including Sweden’s Eva Nordmark, will meet in Brussels for a two day meeting at which they hope to adopt a European Council position on a directive imposing “adequate minimum wages” on all EU countries. Once the Council, which represents member states, has agreed a common position, it will begin negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission. 

What’s Sweden’s position on the minimum wage directive? 

Sweden has been, along with Denmark, one of the most vocal opponents of the directive, arguing that it threatens the country’s collective bargaining model, in which unions and employers set wages without government interference. 

But on Friday, the government dropped its opposition, together with country’s umbrella union, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, arguing that a compromise proposal put forward by the European Commission would protect Sweden’s wage autonomy. 

A majority of the members of the Swedish parliament’s employment committee are backing the government’s new stance, but three opposition parties, the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats, are opposed to the change in position. 

“I am extremely happy that there is broad support and majority backing for us to continue with the negotiations, to stand up for what we have come to so far, and do everything we can to protect the Swedish wage-setting model,” Sweden’s employment minister Eva Nordmark (S) said after a meeting with the employment committee on Friday. 

READ ALSO: Why Sweden doesn’t have a minimum wage and how to ensure you’re fairly paid

Why did Sweden make its dramatic last-minute u-turn? 

Sweden’s government judges that, after the compromise, the directive will no longer mean that Sweden is forced to bring in a statutory minimum wage. 

“I consider, together with experts in the civil service and experts in the unions and employer organisations, that there is no requirement for Sweden to bring in a statutory minimum wage,” Nordmark told TT. 

She added that agreeing to sign up to the directive would give Sweden the ability to take a deeper part in the negotiations giving it the power to make sure that important exceptions are made for Sweden. 

Denmark, however, is still resolved to say ‘no’ to the directive. 

Surely a minimum wage is a good thing? Isn’t Sweden supposed to be a high-wage economy? 

Sweden is certainly a high-wage economy, but that is largely thanks to its model of collective bargaining, under which wages are generally set by negotiations between employees and employers for each sector. 

If the directive sets a precedent allowing governments, either at a national or EU level, to interfere in this process, or for those who disagree with the result of the collective bargaining agreement to appeal to government entities, it could undermine the Swedish system. 

Who is still worried? 

More or less everyone. While the Swedish Trade Union Confederation is supporting the government’s decision, its vice chair Therese Guovelin, described the European Commission’s compromise proposal as simply “the least bad compromise proposal” the union had seen.

She has previously described the European Parliament’s position that the directive should apply to the entire European Union as “a catastrophe”.

“That would mean that a disgruntled employee who is not part of the union, could take their case to court, and would then end up at the EU Court, and it would then be them who would decide on what should be a reasonable salary,” she explained. “In Sweden, it’s the parties [unions and employers’ organisations] that decide on that.”

Tobias Billström, group leader for the Moderate Party, said he was concerned at the role of the European Court in the directive. 

“There are big risks with this,” he told TT. “The EU court might decide to interpret this directive as applying across the board, and then we might end up with what we wanted to avoid. The Moderates have as a result been against this development, and it’s important that Sweden gets to decide itself on the Swedish labour market.”

What might happen now? 

The European Parliament might try to remove the wording and the exemptions which Sweden hopes will allow its employers and unions to retain control of wage-setting. 

Mattias Dahl, chief executive of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents employers’ groups, said that the government needed to stand its ground in the upcoming negotiations, reiterating that he would have preferred that the European Commission had not sought to give itself such a role in the Labour Market.  

Nordmark said that Sweden did not intend to back down to the parliament. 

“These are important red lines for us. If there are demands from the European Parliament that push in a different direction, we can lean on the Swedish opinion and what we stand for,” she said. 

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