Licensed character wholesale UK wholesaler

EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

1 In the present case, the Court of Justice has to deal with the question of the compatibility of the legal system governing the retail sale of alcoholic beverages in Sweden (hereinafter: the system) with Articles 30 and 37 of the EC Treaty.

The national legislation and its history

2 In the past, Sweden had the exclusive right to manufacture and sell alcoholic beverages to two state-owned companies. V & S Vin & Sprit AB (hereinafter: V & S) was solely authorized to produce and export alcoholic beverages and to import beer, wine and spirits. Systembolaget AB (hereinafter: Systembolag) had the exclusive right to retail and wholesale to restaurants.

3 After the entry into force of the EEA Agreement, Between Sweden and the Community on January 1, 1994, a Finnish court referred to the EFTA Court of Justice the question of the compatibility of a regulation by which a state monopoly granted the exclusive right to import alcoholic beverages from other EEA member states or to trade between the EEA Member States were required to authorize the state monopoly to import and market such products, with Articles 11, 13 and 16 of the EEA Agreement (essentially corresponding to Articles 30, 36 and 37 of the EC Treaty) for a preliminary ruling. In its judgment of 16 December 1994 in Case E-1/94 (Restamark) (1), the EFTA Court ruled as follows:

"1. Article 11 of the EEA Agreement is to be interpreted as stipulating that a national measure which grants a state monopoly the exclusive right to import alcoholic beverages, which are part of the products covered by the EEA Agreement and originate from Member States, and its application such national regulations on EFTA trade, which require a license from the state monopoly for the import and placing on the market of such products, even if this license is granted automatically. Such measures cannot be justified under Article 13 of the EEA Agreement because they are part of an alcohol policy with which the harmful effects of the consumption of alcoholic beverages are to be reduced, and this aim can also be achieved by other means that are less restrictive of the free movement of goods.

2. Article 16 of the EEA Agreement is to be interpreted as meaning that from 1 January 1994 every state trade monopoly that does not fall under Protocol 8 of the EEA Agreement must be transformed in such a way that the exclusive right to import goods under the monopoly of a Member State covered products from other Member States is not applicable. "

4 In the course of the negotiations on the accession of the Kingdom of Sweden to the European Union, correspondence between the Commission and the Swedish government on the Swedish alcohol monopolies took place prior to the delivery of this judgment (2). This correspondence shows that the Commission - subject to the future case law of the Court of Justice and its own task as Guardian of the Treaty - did not consider it advisable to take action against the retail monopoly on its own initiative, if the monopolies for production, wholesale and import and that there is no discrimination against products from other Member States (3).

The Act of Accession does not contain any specific provisions on trade in alcoholic beverages. The Republic of Finland and the Kingdom of Sweden have made observations (4) that the Ministerial Conference has been informed of the above-mentioned correspondence with the Commission.

5 When Sweden joined the European Union on January 1, 1995, the exclusive rights of the V & S to produce and export alcoholic beverages and to import beer, wine and spirits as well as the exclusive right of Systembolag to wholesale and retail alcoholic beverages were granted Restaurants abolished.

It has been replaced by a regulation according to which economic operators are free to import and wholesale alcoholic beverages, wine and beer as soon as they have the appropriate license, and which allows them to resell these products to Systembolag and license holders.

In contrast, Systembolag's exclusive right to retail alcoholic beverages was retained.

6 The above-mentioned transformation of Swedish alcohol legislation was carried out by the Alcohol Law of December 16, 1994 (5) (Alcohol Act; hereinafter: Act), which came into force on January 1, 1995. The explanatory memorandum for the draft law (6) states, inter alia:

"Excessive alcohol consumption leads to significant social, medical and socio-economic problems. For this reason, Sweden has long had a restrictive alcohol policy.