In the run-up to elections, Finnish politicians get asked their views on all sorts of subjects, but a survey by Keskisuomalainen media group had only some of them popping a cork.
The media company asked a group of leading politicians whether wine or strong alcohol should be available to buy in supermarkets.
It comes a year after slightly more relaxed laws were introduced to allow supermarkets to stock sales of stronger beer, cider and long drinks. After a year of sales – and predictions that it might lead to increased alcohol consumption – figures showed that booze sales increased only by 1% and even then, analysts put it down to the long hot summer we had in 2018.
So what do politicians have to say? Perhaps surprisingly, most of them were against loosening up sales even more – and some had specific reasons for wanting to preserve the monopoly of state-run liquor store Alko. Only one major party was keen to see further reform of alcohol laws.
Social Democrats leader Antti Rinne, who just returned from a prolonged medical leave, said he’s against any further relaxing of the rules. “The changes that have just been made to the the Alcohol Act have not yet been monitored well enough to make more changes. Patience is a virtue”.
His SDP Parliamentary Group leader colleague Antti Lindtman agrees with that analysis, saying “the new alcohol law only came into force. We should monitor its effects peacefully and accurately”.
The Left Alliance’s Li Andersson disagrees with more alcohol policy liberalisation for two reasons. “Sales of wine and stronger alcohol at grocery stores would reduce Alko’s sales and cut its store network. In addition this would increase the harm caused by alcohol when stronger drinks are available more easily and cheaply”.
Representing the Greens, chairman Pekka Haavisto says “Alko has been improving its store locations in shopping centres as well as other services too. In this sence, availability is not a big problem for those who want to buy stronger alcohol. I don’t want all alcoholic beverages in grocery stores”.
From the Centre Party, MP Hannakaisa Heikkinen from eastern Finland is considering what she thinks would be a negative impact on society if wine or spirits were made more easily available.
“I feel that society should prevent alcohol-related harm. Restricting access, which is why we have Alko’s monopoly, is one of the most effective ways. I feel that getting wines and spirits out of ALko is not too much trouble when it is able to limit the increase on alcohol harm”.
From the Christian Democrats, party chair Sari Essayah also wants to keep the system the way it is now. “Alcohol consumption is mainly influenced by price and availability. If wines and liquors were to be transferred to retailers, their availability would increase from the number of Alko stores by almost ten time” she says.
Meanwhile the National Coalition Party is the only one standing out from the crowd and calling for further liberal reforms to alcohol laws.
According to Keskisuomalainen’s survey, two out of three candidates in the NCP want to see more market liberalisation.
Education Minister Sanni Grahn-Laasonen says “studies show that today’s young people have a much more reasonable relationship with alcohol than their parents used to have. Despite the threat, the new alcohol law showed that liberalisation did not increase consumption. Finland is moving towards more European drinking habits”.