The European Commission has decided to bring Sweden before the European Court of Justice for maintaining a ban on Swedish consumers using independent intermediaries to import alcoholic drinks for their private use into Sweden from other Member State. The Commission believes that the ban represents a disproportionate obstacle to the free movement of goods in contravention of EC Treaty rules (Article 28).
Under Swedish law, in accordance with EU rules, private individuals are allowed to bring alcoholic beverages into Sweden for their own use, if they themselves travel and bring the goods physically with them. However, if private individuals do not themselves physically transport the alcoholic beverages into Sweden, their only option is to request Systembolaget, the Swedish alcohol retail monopoly, to bring them in on their behalf, which is time consuming and expensive. Consumers are prohibited from requesting other intermediaries to carry out the import on their behalf, even if they are prepared to pay the Swedish excise duties due.
The Commission sent a reasoned opinion in October 2003 (see IP/03/1417) requesting Sweden formally to lift the ban. In its reply, Sweden maintains that the ban on private imports of alcoholic beverages is in compliance with European law since it is an integral and non-discriminatory part of the Swedish state's retail monopoly for alcoholic beverages and since it is necessary for the protection of public health.
The Commission does not accept the Swedish position and continues to take the view that the ban breaches the EC Treaty rules on the free movement of goods, since it imposes a disproportionate barrier to intra-EU trade, having regard to the public health objective that it is supposed to achieve. Indeed, in the Commission's view, the protection of public health can be achieved by other means that are less restrictive for trade between Member States, such as public information campaigns and checking the age of those buying alcoholic drinks.
The Commission believes that consumers residing in Sweden should not be restricted to buying only those alcoholic beverages marketed by the Systembolaget and should be able to purchase products available on the market in other Member States through independent intermediaries as long as they pay the Swedish excise duties. The Commission considers that such an absolute ban imposed on all consumers is disproportionate and cannot be considered an integral part of the operation of the retail monopoly. The Commission has therefore decided to take the case to the European Court of Justice.
The free movement of goods is one of the fundamental principles of the Internal Market. EC Treaty rules (Article 28-30), in conjunction with the case law of the Court of Justice, require Member States to abstain from imposing restrictions on imports or exports to and from other Member States, unless there are objective public policy reasons (such as public health or security) for doing so. Even when such public policy reasons exist, any restriction must be necessary and proportionate to achieve objective.
Recent general information on infringements concerning all Member States may be consulted at: