Swedish alcohol monopoly gets knocked, but still standing
The Swedish state monopoly on alcohol may have its drawbacks but Swedes profess that it is worth keeping, even as they are busy finding legal, or sometimes not so legal, ways of getting around its restrictions.
About 30 percent of alcohol consumed in Sweden escapes all government control as Swedes smuggle, brew or import as much drink as possible to escape exorbitant official prices.
The state’s monopoly was invented in 1865, a precursor to Sweden’s more recent nanny-state inclinations. To be fair, at the time Swedes threw back a stunning 46 litres of pure alcohol per year per person, which led to such a generalized drunken stupor that there were serious concerns that they might become unfit to work.
“Working capacity decreased, as work-related accidents increased, and output declined. The conclusion was that as long as there was unlimited access to inexpensive alcohol, provided by private retailers, it would be hard to decrease overall consumption,” according to Systembolaget, Sweden’s state-run drinks retailer. The answer was simple: high taxes and tight distribution would surely wean the Swedes from the bottle and sure enough, as far as those objectives are concerned, the crackdown has been an unqualified success. By last year, consumption had fallen to just 9.2 litres of pure alcohol per Swede, placing the country way down the list of drinking nations, in 32nd place.
However, the authorities have been forced to loosen their iron grip on their citizens, especially after European Union legislation kicked in, becoming a more serious threat to state control than the century-old pastime of smuggling and moon shining. As a result of its EU membership since 1995, Sweden has been forced to abandon its state monopoly on alcohol exports, on imports and on wholesale and also to cut some taxes. —AFP