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Published:  23 July, 2008

The Swedish government was under increasing pressure last week to change its policy on the import and taxation of alcohol. The EU Commission filed a suit at the European Court of Justice regarding personal imports of alcohol, and threatened another over duty disparity between beer and wine. EU commissioners fired the opening salvo on Tuesday 13 July, when they filed a suit which seeks an end to Sweden's ban on the use of independent intermediaries to import alcoholic drinks. The commission believes the ban is a disproportionate obstacle to the free movement of goods', and in contravention of Sweden's EU treaty commitments. The second wave came in a statement from EU Commissioner for the EU internal market, Frits Bolkestein, attacking Swedish duty rates for wine, which are 50% higher than they are for beers of the same strength. Wine and beer compete with each other, but Sweden's uneven tax system is liable to affect the choice of the consumers to the benefit of beer, which is the local product,' Bolkestein said. This is a form of protectionism which the commission cannot condone.' The dual attack came at the end of another bad week for the country's alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget, which saw sales slump by 7.5% year on year during June. The monopoly has seen sales drop alarmingly since its neighbours slashed alcohol duty rates by 47% (Denmark) and 40% (Finland), to combat cross-border shopping following the accession to the EU by the Baltic States and Poland.