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Finland alcohol law ‘discriminates’ against spirits

The Finnish government has increased the percentage limit for fermented beverages sold in the off-trade, a move that “unjustifiably discriminates” against spirits.

Finland has increased the maximum ABV of fermented beverages to 8% in the off-trade

Finland’s parliament approved a proposal to increase the ABV limit of fermented alcoholic beverages for sale in licensed retailers to 8%, up from 5.5%. The amendment to Finland’s Alcohol Act came into force on Monday 10 June 2024.

However, this does not apply to distilled spirits, which can only be purchased through the government-controlled monopoly store Alko or in licensed bars and restaurants.

“The government liberalises alcohol regulation with responsible steps in the European direction,” said Finland minister of social security, Sanni Grahn-Laasonen. “This direction is possible because the total consumption of alcohol has been decreasing.”

Trade body Spirits Europe has urged the Finnish government to “reconsider the matter”.

“The bill unjustifiably discriminates against comparable alcoholic beverages based on their respective method of production to the disadvantage of those with a distilled alcohol basis,” Spirits Europe said.

“The European Commission, in their Notification 2023/543/FI to the Finnish government of 15 November 2023, found that the Finnish government’s justification of the measure is unsuitable, ineffective as well as disproportional. It also found that the scientific evidence is insufficient, and there has been no fiscal justification provided either.

“The reports that were drawn up as part of the adoption process by the Finnish parliament’s committees for Social Affairs & Health Committee and Economic Committee echo these concerns.”

In the Notification 2023/543/FI document, the European Commission had asked the Finnish government to provide further information on its choice to differentiate the law on products that were distilled or fermented.

In response to the Commission, the government cited ‘existing scientific evidence’ that distilled spirits with an ABV of between 5.5 and 8% ‘would be more appealing to underage girls than fermented-based beverages with an equivalent alcohol percentage’.

The European Commission stressed the “need for more specific research to be carried out in order to substantiate and support the Finnish authorities’ claim that maintaining a more restrictive regime for the sale of distilled beverages with identical alcoholic content would be justified by the objective of protecting the health of young female consumers, who would be more likely to be negatively affected, and in order to prove the existence of a causal link and the suitability of the restriction”.

Furthermore, the Finnish authorities told the European Commission in October 2023 that the law would likely increase sales of fermented alcoholic beverages, and acknowledged that it could partly be at the expense of other products made with a different base, such as spirits.

The European Commission wrote in the document: “The reply also suggests that in the long term, the proposed change may affect consumers’ purchasing and consumption behaviour in a lasting manner and might result in consumers favouring fermented alcoholic beverages to the detriment of alcoholic beverages produced in other ways. Therefore, the notified draft is likely to have a permanent effect on the market.”

Call for evidence-based measures

Spirits Europe is calling on the government of Finland to “re-discuss the public health issue that this policy is claiming to address in a sincere and pragmatic manner, so that an effective, evidence-based, and non-discriminatory set of measures can be found in full respect of the fundamental principles of the EU’s internal market and EU competition law”.

The European Commission refused to provide a statement at this current time.

Meanwhile, Finland-based alcohol producer Anora Group has released a range of 8% ABV wine-based products following the new law.

“This change provides an opportunity to broaden our offering of low-alcohol products,” the company said in a statement.

“With regards to future developments in legislation, this is something we of course follow closely. Currently, we’re focused on taking full advantage of this legislative change by ensuring the success of our range of 8% wine products.”

In other news, the Swedish government is proposing to allow small distilleries, wineries and breweries to sell alcohol directly to visiting customers.

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