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Posts Tagged ‘Alcohol policy’

A sensible decision

For once, the local newspaper here in Oslo has done its job, questioning the decisions made by bureaucrats in charge of services for the elderly. And, for once, the local politicians in charge have acted swiftly.

I won’t say beer is often in the headlines here in Norway. If so, it would often be about teenagers having one too many, and adults complaining about the shocking state of today’s youth.

Some of the local administrators of social services here in Oslo had found another segment of the populations that needed supervision – the elderly. Not just any old age pensioners, mind you, but these who apply for help with their daily chores such as cleaning or shopping. About half of the local administrations had adopted a “no alcohol” policy.

Aage Pedersen is 86 and lives alone. When he broke his leg, he applied for, and was granted, help to do shopping and cleaning.

Last week he handed over his shopping list. Bread, milk, something for lunch and dinner – and a six pack of beer.

I enjoy a glass of beer with a meal, once in a while, Mr. Pedersen says to the newspaper Aftenposten.

His assistant crossed out the beer on his shopping list, and told Pedersen they had orders not to buy beer for their clients.

I was, to put it mildly, provoked, says Pedersen. I am an adult who can decide these things myself.  Just because I cannot walk don the stairs does not mean that I cannot cope with a glass of beer with my dinner if I so wish. It is not as if I desperately need the beer, but they should not decide what I should buy from the supermarket! 

He tried to get through to the local administration on the phone, but without success. Aftenposten, however, managed to get through, and they found out that this policy was carried out in many parts of the city.

After the media coverage, there was a very clear message from the politician in charge of the services:

This is a service we offer to those who need it, and we cannot refuse to buy beer for senior citizens if they want it. This is a moralist mentality we need to get rid of.

The result?

Pedersen got his beer, and so will others who put it on their shopping lists in reasonable amounts.

If I ran a brewery, I would give Aage Pedersen a six pack per week for the rest of his life. Just in case he ran into the control freaks again.

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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!

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