We are the Trade Association for E-commerce of Wine and Beer (in Swedish Nätvinhandlarnas Branschorganisation). The right of private individuals to import wine for personal consumption is a consequence of Sweden’s EU membership and is legally established by the European Court of Justice in the Rosengren judgement of 2007. Swedish companies that sell wine online operate under the EU’s free movement of goods and services. Thanks to e-commerce, food and wine enthusiasts are able to demand a wider range of wine than what is sold by Systembolaget (the Swedish alcohol retailing monopoly).
The proposal by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs
Despite this clear-cut legal situation, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs has submitted a proposal that contravenes EU law and presents a threat to e-commerce and to Swedish alcohol policy as a whole. Under EU law, any restriction of free movement must be proportional; the restriction must be proportional with the desired benefits to the public. In the memorandum, no public health benefits are claimed. The restriction is thus not compatible with EU law.
The ban is proposed by the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs in a memorandum (DS 2016:33) published on 3 October 2016. The Ministry’s memo ignores the fact that, under the ECJ’s approach and past practice, the proposed ban may only be imposed if the objective of protecting public health cannot be achieved by other means less restrictive of free movement. The ECJ is therefore likely to find that ban is neither necessary nor proportional.
The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs cites a public health objective, but is targeting the wrong business. By far, the largest volume of wine is sold by Systembolaget (the Swedish alcohol retailing monopoly). Over half of Systembolaget’s wine sales are bag-in-box wines, which are sold with a heavy volume discount. Bag-in-box consumers consume more alcohol than those who purchase bottled wine. And legal online wine merchants do not sell bag-in-boxes, low-price wine, spirits or alcopop.
Postal address: Nicandersgatan 2, 254 39 Helsingborg