Norway - Political situation
There was considerable interest in the alcohol policies of the current Conservative-Progress Party coalition government as it gained power in 2013. Both parties are ideologically on the liberal side, and alcohol policy has been a symbolically important issue particularly for the Progress Party.
However, despite a somewhat liberal ideology, the Conservative Party has historically been relatively moderate when in power. Furthermore, the current minority coalition needs the support of the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Left party to get a majority in Parliament. In the agreement between the coalition and the two Parliamentary partners it was stated that the main features of Norwegian alcohol policy should remain fixed.
However, ”the main features” were never explicitly defined, although it can reasonably be interpreted as a combination of a state retail monopoly, high excise duties on alcohol and limited availability through age limits, restrictions on opening hours and licencing.
The policy initiatives from the Government so far have not been radical, although most proposals tend to liberalise regulations, such as
Increasing taxfree allowances (implemented)
Increasing sales days for the state monopoly, such as New Year’s Eve, election days etc. (implemented)
Allowing farm sales of alcohol (suggested)
Relaxing regulations on commercial communication/advertising (suggested)
Lowering taxes on beer (suggested)
Individually, these changes may not be dramatic, but critics have argued that in sum, they may affect alcohol consumption and related harm, and even weaken some of the key instruments of Norwegian alcohol policy.
Alcohol policy is relatively high on the political agenda in Norway and is among the issues that could cause conflicts between the coalition government and their partners in Parliament. More recently, labelling and taxfree sales have been on the political agenda.
In February, Parliament voted on a proposal to introduce health labelling on alcohol. Labelling has been mentioned in national alcohol strategies for almost a decade, and many parties supported the policy in principle. However, the proposal still failed, because the majority wanted to wait for the outcome of the EU-process on the issue.
The increase in taxfree alcohol allowances sparked new interest in the issue of taxfree sales. Researchers have long pointed out that taxfree is the main source of unregistred alcohol in Norway, and as travel becomes more common and allowances increase, taxfree sales are expected to grow. As the share of alcohol sold through taxfree stores increases, the share sold in state monopoly stores decreases. This undermines the monopoly status of the state monopoly. The state monopoly has already reported a decrease in sales since the allowance increase.
Furthermore, aggressive sales practices that guided travellers through the wine and spirits shelves on arrival also led to protests. Several parties suggested that the state monopoly should take over taxfree sales to ensure more responsible sales practices and to strengthen the state monopoly. However, many NGOs, newspapers and politicians wanted to go further and abolish taxfree sales of alcohol altogether. The health committee of the biggest party, the Labour party, supported this proposal, but it was defeated at their annual congress.
The Government will have to produce a report on the future of taxfree sales during their time in office.