The third inquiry into “farm sales” of alcohol in Sweden has caused the debate on the issue of our government’s alcohol retail monopoly and how to protect it in the EU to flare up again.
As IOGT-NTO has previously shown, the “alcohol farm sales” framing is an insidious scam by Big Alcohol because the concrete changes that alcohol industry lobbyists demand are very far from the image of “farm sales” that is sold to the population. This was further confirmed by IOGT-NTO’s revelation of how Sweden’s largest liquor company has invested heavily in lobbying campaigns for farm sales.
With the help of new figures, IOGT-NTO can now show how the Finnish farm sales of beer are based on an almost total privatization of the Finnish alcohol retail monopoly for beer, contrary to what Big Alcohol’s “farm sales” lobbyists claim in the Swedish debate.
At the heart of the “farm sales” debate is the question of whether Sweden’s alcohol retail monopoly, Systembolaget, is threatened or not should alcohol “farm sales” be introduced. Two government inquiries have already established that Systembolaget is in fact threatened due to EU Internal Market rules – from which the current alcohol retail monopoly is exempted, as a concession for Sweden to join the European Union. Nevertheless, the proponents of “farm sales” keep maintaining that their proposal could be reconciled with EU rules.
A recurring argument in the debate is the comparison with our neighboring country Finland. The claim is simple:
“Finland has farm sales and an alcohol monopoly, so why can’t we?”
But the comparison is deeply flawed as the proponents ignore significant differences between Swedish and Finnish alcohol regulation and misunderstand the extent of Finnish “farm sales”.
Since joining the EU, Finland has had what they call “direct sales” of special berry wines and the malt-based beverage Sahti. In Sweden, this has been described as Finnish “farm sales”. The European Commission has been clear that the design discriminates against foreign products and therefore violates EU law. However, they have said they do not want to pursue the issue, citing the fact that there are no producers of these drinks in other EU countries who are disadvantaged. Importantly, when Finland tried in 2009 to increase direct sales to include so-called “farm liqueurs”, the European Commission objected. This is because direct sales of liqueurs would mean a departure from the exclusive right of the Finnish alcohol retail monopoly, which would put liqueurs produced in other EU countries at a competitive disadvantage. Finland then chose not to proceed with the increase of direct sales.
It is thus clear that Finland’s limited direct sales of berry wines and Sahti cannot be invoked as support for “farm sales” in Sweden. This was also stated in the first two Swedish government inquiries into “farm sales”.
Since 2017, Finland has also introduced direct sales of so-called “craft beer” with up to 12% alcohol strength. This change is one of the reasons why the farm sales debate has flared up again in Sweden.
If you look more closely at the design, however, it quickly becomes clear why a similar model could not be implemented in Sweden without privatizing large parts of the Swedish alcohol retail monopoly.
Since 2017, Finland has privatized sales of beer with up to 5.5% alcohol content. The beer that is relevant for Finnish direct sales is thus only beer between 5.5% to 12% alcohol strength that is still sold within the framework of the Finnish alcohol retail monopoly Alko‘s exclusive right.
Using specific Finnish data, IOGT-NTO can now reveal that Alko’s sales of these products account for only 0.9% of the Finnish retail trade in beer. It is this almost total privatization of beer sales that Finland leans on when they claim that their direct sales of “craft beer” are so small that it does not risk their alcohol monopoly – they have in practice already abolished the government retail monopoly for beer in Finland.
Contrary to what is often heard in the debate, this shows that Finland cannot be said to have succeeded in combining alcohol monopolies and farm sales of alcohol.
If the Finnish model were to be used in Sweden, it would mean a departure from the Swedish alcohol retail monopoly that affects over 70% of the retail trade in beer. In addition, should it be the case – as Big Alcohol’s lobbyists push for – that “farm sales” should also be allowed for wine and spirits, it is about 100% of the retail trade in these products that are exempt from the Systembolaget’s exclusive right. This is world’s apart from the Finnish situation and an obvious erosion of the very successful and widely popular and strongly supported alcohol retail monopoly we have in Sweden.
The comparison with Finland is so flawed that it indicates the true intent of its proponents: to disband Systembolaget and bring about almost total privatization of alcohol retail in our country – a move that would cost thousands of lives and harm the health and well-being of people and communities in Sweden.