Preparation of the new Alcohol Act studies Helsinki Court of Appeal’s judgment on distance selling of alcoholic beverages
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will examine Helsinki Court of Appeal’s judgment on distance selling of alcoholic beverages. The current Alcohol Act remains in force in full until the case is finally concluded.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will continue the preparations for a new Alcohol Act as planned. The aim is to submit the Government proposal on a new Alcohol Act to Parliament during the spring session.
On 24 April 2017, Helsinki Court of Appeal gave its judgement on a case concerning cross-border distance selling of alcoholic beverages into Finland. This judgment is linked with a preliminary ruling issued by the EU Court of Justice on 12 November 2015 in the case C-198/14 Visnapuu.
Helsinki Court of Appeal states in its judgment that distance selling of wines and strong alcoholic beverages, for example, is a punishable act in Finland. It also maintains that while the current provisions concerning direct selling from fruit wine farms comply with EU law, the provisions on distance selling of alcoholic beverages produced by fermentation, containing no more than 4.7 per cent by volume of alcohol, are not fully consistent with the requirements of EU law. According to the Court of Appeal, distance selling of these alcoholic beverages from abroad should be allowed; the Alcohol Act could for example impose on distance selling the same rules concerning sale and delivery times and age-limit control that apply to retail stores.
The Court of Appeal’s judgment has no legal force, and therefore the current provisions of the Alcohol Act are still valid. Since it is possible to lodge an appeal against this judgment with the Supreme Court, getting a legally valid judgment could be delayed until next year.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health and the Finnish Customs will examine the judgment and report on its effects if necessary on 10 May at the earliest.
Cross-border distance selling of alcoholic beverages means a situation where an individual orders from an online store, for example, alcoholic beverages from another EU Member State and their delivery into Finland is organised by the seller. Cross-border distance selling of alcoholic beverages is banned under sections 8, 13 and 14 of the current Alcohol Act.
Preparation of the comprehensive Alcohol Act reform continues
The Government will submit its proposal on a new Alcohol Act to Parliament during the spring session. The ban on cross-border distance selling of alcoholic beverages, examined by the EU Court of Justice and Helsinki Court of Appeal, is included in the current draft proposal and would be written more clearly in the new act. In practice the ban would mean that foreign companies would not be able to sell for example wines and strong alcoholic beverages to consumers in Finland.
However, a Member State cannot prohibit consumers from importing alcoholic beverages for personal consumption, according to the case law of the EU Court of Justice. In the forthcoming Government proposal it would be clearly stated that consumers can still buy alcoholic beverages from abroad as long as the seller is not involved in organising delivery.
Kari Paaso, Director, tel. +358 2951 63340