So once more we have a potential clash between the EU and the Swedish social model. A few weeks ago it was Commissioner McCreevy complaining about collective wage bargaining agreements, and now the Swedish state alcohol monopoly fears that it is going to be under threat from legislation to open the market. Here, as in all cases, the freedom of the market seems to be the EU’s main starting point, rather than anything else. If Systembolaget’s statistics (backed up by the WTO) are to be believed, Sweden has a very low level of alcohol related problems in comparison to the rest of the world – see these articles from EUObserver and the BBC, and hence the monopoly should be maintained.
For me this raises 2 questions: is there anything that Systembolaget does that could not be achieved by just putting large taxes on alcohol generally, and imposing restrictive opening hours on other stores? Second, how much of the success in combatting alcoholism is as a result of Systembolaget anyway? How much is actually to do with a trusting society, and excellent social protection, and good education?
So while Systembolaget gets its attack in first, in the form of letters and campaigns to the European Commission – see this brilliant website for example – I am left wondering what the rest of Europe could or should do about the problems of alcohol abuse.
[UPDATED – 23.11.2005]
Apparently the Swedish population is quite happy with Systembolaget, according to The Local:
- Sweden’s state-run alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget, has risen in the ratings since being strongly criticised in 2003, when the index was compiled in the midst of a series of revelations about improprieties.
Most customers said that the range of products is very good but the customer service could be improved. At the same time, 69% of customers said that they buy around a third of their booze elsewhere.