ALCOHOL and DRUG REPORT
ICELAND - Availability
According to a survey conducted in May 2013, 56% were satisfied with the current system of alcohol sales in Iceland.
Icelanders support retail monopoly system
A survey from October 2014, carried out by Fréttablaðið newspaper, reveals that 67 per cent of Icelanders are opposed introducing new laws that allow sale of wine and beer in grocery stores; 30 per cent are in favor.
The ground for the survey was a MP bill submitted to parliament (Alþingi) in September 2014. The bill, if passed, would have permitted the sale of alcohol beverages in private shops instead of only in The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland (ÁTVR) stores in the country as it is now. Similar bills have been submitted and ,,killed“ six times before.
In 2016 a new poll, conducted by Fréttablaðið, Vísir and Stöð 2, showed that some 62% of Icelanders are against alcohol being sold in private shops and grocery stores, while 38% were in favour. When all responses are taken into account, 35% said they supported the sale of beer and wine in food stores, while 56% were opposed, and 9% were undecided. The results show a distinct change from the last time a poll was done on the subject, last November, when 47% of respondents were against the sale of alcohol in private shops, while 41% supported the idea, and 12% had no position on the matter. Source: The Reykjavik Grapevine.
In October 2015, NordAN General Assembly adopted a resolution stressing that the monopoly system is an important corner-stone of Iceland´s effective alcohol policy. NordAN "strongly urges members of the Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi, to veto the bill proposing the abolition of a public monopoly on sales of alcohol and authorizing the right to sell alcohol at all retail outlets which is now being dealt with by the Parliament."
The bill continued in the Parliament and was (March 2016) approved by a majority of members of the Icelandic Parliament (‘Alþingi’) General Affairs Committee. The bill received the endorsement of a cross-party majority of committee MPs and moved on to Alþingi for further legislative processing. As with earlier attempts, it didn´t go through and was stopped in the process.
In February 2017 four parties – the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Reform Party and Bright Future, in addition to the Pirate Party – introduced a bill to parliament that aimed to permit the sale of alcohol in private shops, starting at the beginning of 2018.
A new poll published by Kjarninn (conducted by Zenter in February 2017) showed that 61.5% of respondents were opposed to the sale of alcohol in private shops, with only 22.8% supporting the measure but 15.7% having no opinion.
On May 31, 2017, NordAN board member from Iceland, Arni Einarsson, informed the network that “the alcohol bill will not be taken to a final discussion in the Parliament. Today is the last working day of the present session. Now we will see if they start again next autumn when the next Parliament session starts.”
The issue around EU Geoblocking Directive
In September 2019 the Iceland Review wrote that "Alcoholic Beverages To Be Sold Online". It explains that the Icelandic government is considering a bill that would give up the ATVR alcohol monopoly by allowing private alcohol sales online. The measure is described as mandated by the EU Geoblocking Directive, wrote Kalle Dramstad, Head of European Policy, working on EU and alcohol policy in Brussels for the Swedish NGO, IOGT-NTO, explaining the EU-rules.
"Public health oriented alcohol retail monopolies are legal under EU-rules. This was confirmed by the European Court of Justice over 20 years ago and there are several alcohol retail monopolies that continue to exist within EU and EEA-countries: Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland are clear examples.
Proponents of the idea to privatise internet sales of alcohol in Iceland seem to claim this is required by the new EU Geoblocking Directive. Fortunately, it can easily be verified that so is not the case.
It suffices to look at all those EU-countries which implemented the Geoblocking Directive in 2018 and where alcohol monopolies are still standing strong. In 2018, Finland even had their ban on online sales of alcohol (including from other EU-countries) upheld by the Finnish High Court after a supportive judgement in the European Court of Justice.
If there are people who are uncertain as to how the Geoblocking Directive can be reconciled with an alcohol monopoly, my advice would be for them to contact the Ministry of Social Affairs in Finland or in Sweden and ask for help. There are also many NGOs in Brussels that would gladly offer our services and input should it be needed.
It is always worrying to hear about situations where EU-rules are being cited as a justification to remove effective public health policies. Usually, it is based on a legal misunderstanding, but such misunderstandings can also be exploited by actors who would stand to make a lot of money from an increase in alcohol consumption. It is therefore important that the alcohol policy debate is being led by facts and evidence, both when it comes to legal matters and public health effects."