Comprehensive reform of Alcohol Act

Preparation of the comprehensive Alcohol Act reform continues

The political preparation of the comprehensive Alcohol Act reform began in February 2016, when Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Juha Rehula presented his preliminary proposal to the Ministerial Working Group for the promotion of health and welfare. The preliminary proposal sought a balance between reducing the negative impacts of alcohol and taking into account the related industry.

The coalition parties' parliamentary groups have discussed the preliminary proposal, and representatives of the groups have agreed during further talks on certain policies on alcohol legislation that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will prepare. During September, the government's ministerial working group on wellbeing and health has reassessed the legislative reform.

Once the regulatory proposals and the reform's impact assessments have been completed, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will request comments on the proposal. This is expected to take place in late October and early November. After this, the Government's proposal for the new Alcohol Act will be submitted to parliament. The entry into force of the Alcohol Act will be decided on during a parliamentary session.

Simultaneously with circulation for comments, a notification procedure for the Alcohol Act will be initiated, in which the European Commission and other Member States will assess whether the proposed legislation is compatible with EU law. The procedure will last no longer than six months, and the legislation may not be approved in Finland prior to completion of the procedure.

Key principles of the reform

Finland's alcohol legislation consists of the Alcohol Act from 1994 and the 15 Decrees laid down based on the Act. The Act and the Decrees laid down on the basis of the Act will be combined during the reform as comprehensively as possible into one law. The principles of the reform include maintaining Alko's current retail monopoly and the current licensing system, and dismantling all unnecessary, outdated or cumbersome norms included in current legislation. These norms have burdened especially the restaurant industry. Provisions concerning serving hours and customer service at restaurants and bars would be eased.

Policies of governing parties for the Alcohol Act reform 19 April 2016

Governing parties have mutually agreed on at least the following policies, which will be specified if necessary:

Serving of alcoholic beverages on the premises

At present, restaurants and bars are granted A (all alcoholic beverages), B (wine), or C (beverages that have no more than 4.7 % alcohol) licenses for serving alcohol. In the future, one license would allow an establishment to serve all types of alcoholic beverages. Additionally, restaurants and bars would no longer be barred from the retail sale of alcoholic beverages – this sale would be in accordance with retail regulations. These regulations include the maximum alcoholic strength by volume of beverages and hours during which retail sale of alcohol is permitted.

Currently, each restaurant or bar must have a "responsible manager or substitute" present, who must meet with specific training and experience requirements. In the future, there would need to be an adult manager present during each shift, but no specific criteria for his/her competence would be specified.

At present, restaurant and bar staff must be at least 18 years of age with the exception of waiter students, who must have turned 16. In the future, persons who are 16 years of age could serve alcohol under the supervision of the shift manager.

Currently, serving areas shared by several restaurants are prohibited. In the future shared serving areas would be allowed. So-called catering permits would allow restaurants and bars to serve alcoholic beverages in pre-approved business premises, the area's party venues and festivals after they have submitted notice of this to the Regional State Administrative Agency.

At present, serving hours end at 1.30 am. Restaurants and bars apply for a license from the Regional State Administrative Agencies for extended serving hours until 2.30am or 3.30am, if they have special reasoning. A restaurant or bar must close half an hour after serving hours have ended. This requirement for closing time would be eliminated. In the future, serving hours would still end at 1.30am, but a restaurant or bar could continue to serve alcohol until 4.00am at the latest by just submitting a notification on the matter. License procedure would be eliminated, but restaurants and bars would have new requirements for maintaining public order. Additionally, authorities would have the right when necessary to limit or prohibit serving of alcoholic beverages to prevent disturbances and disorder.

Retail sale of alcoholic beverages

At present, the retail sale of alcoholic beverages is limited to those beverages that are produced through fermentation and have an alcoholic strength by volume no higher than 4.7%. In the future, the maximum strength by volume of alcoholic beverage sold in retail stores would be increased to 5.5%, and the requirement that the beverage is prepared through fermentation would be eliminated.

The new law would allow microbreweries, the activities of which are based in great part on manual labour, the right to sell their own products directly at the place of production. This proposal would be notified to the European Commission for evaluation.

Currently, Alko stores are open Monday to Friday 9-20. Alko opening hours would be extended by an hour with a closing time of 21. Alko stores would have the right to organise i.e. wine auctions.

Advertising of alcoholic beverages

Currently, restaurants and bars are prohibited from advertising Happy Hour discounts. In the future, this restriction would be eliminated.

Currently, only Alko and other retailers are permitted to publish printed or online price listings for spirits. In the future, producers and wholesalers would also be permitted to present their own products, for example in online price lists. Additionally, a separate provision would be added to legislation concerning online sale of alcoholic beverages by producers intended for export.

Production of alcoholic beverages

Currently, beer and wine can only be produced in homes from a limited variety of raw materials.
The new law would allow the production of beer and wine through fermentation in households without separate conditions.

Further information

Kari Paaso, johtaja 
STM, Hyvinvoinnin ja terveyden edistämisen osasto, Haittojen ehkäisemisen ryhmä 0295163340  

Ismo Tuominen, hallitusneuvos 
STM, Hyvinvoinnin ja terveyden edistämisen osasto, Haittojen ehkäisemisen ryhmä 0295163341