We have had some hilarious posts in the past about Alan in Canada trying to send me a few beers from a mail order company in the Netherlands, with the Norwegian authorities pointing out that individuals are not allowed to import alcoholic beverages. It ended up with the beer bottles costing about five times as much as they did when they left Amsterdam.
Sweden has had a similar system, which has been eroded by large quotas for travellers inside the European Union, and the European Court decided earlier this year that the Swedish import ban could not be justified by public health arguments. At the time, there were some discussions about the implications for Norway as well.
Norway is not a member of the European Union, but we have a rather curious construction called the European Economic Area (EEA), where Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (don’t ask!) adopts EU legislation, pays a fee and is thereby a part of the internal market. This setup was made when the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) still had members like Sweden, Finland and Austria, who have since joined the EU.
I do not often have the pleasure of quoting the EFTA Surveillance Autority on my blog, but yesterday they made history:
Today the EFTA Surveillance Authority delivered a reasoned opinion to Norway in which it stated that the Norwegian restrictions on the private imports of alcoholic beverages are in violation of the principle of the free movement of goods established in Artice 11 of the EEA Agreement.
Since the proceedings against Norway were initiated by the EFTA Surveillance Authority in 2004, the Norwegian Government has maintained that the restrictions form a part of the monopoly on the retail sale of alcoholic beverages.
The EFTA Surveillance Authority agrees that Norway is allowed to maintain its monopoly on retail sales on Norwegian soil. However, the issue of imports of alcoholic beverages for personal use should be treated separately under the free movement provisions. Indeed, in a preliminary ruling of 5 June 2007, the Court of Justice of the European Communities found that a similar system of import restrictions in place in Sweden was separable from the issue of the retail monopoly (Case C-170/04, Rosengren). As a consequence, Sweden was found to be in breach of the rules on the free movement of goods under the EC Treaty. The preliminary ruling in Rosengren corresponds in full with the view advanced by the EFTA Surveillance Authority.
The delivery of a reasoned opinion is the final step in the infringement proceedings carried out by the EFTA Surveillance Authority. Norway has three months to bring its legislation into compliance with the reasoned opinion. If it fails to do so, the EFTA Surveillance Authority may bring the case before the EFTA Court.
I feel quite confident that some people will be very busy during the next three months creating new obstacles. Watch this space!