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Longer opening hours, stronger drink in groceries, higher taxes - new alcohol legislation passes Parliament

The Finnish Parliament on Tuesday gave final approval to a package of alcohol legislation and at the same time raised taxes on alcoholic beverages in an effort to reduce consumption.

Nelosolutta Alkossa, lähikuva.
Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Under the terms of new legislation, groceries, convenience stores and service stations will be permitted to sell beverages with an alcohol content of up to 5.5%. In practice this mean sales of class IV beers, and stronger ciders and alcopops than at present.

The reform also extends the opening hours of state Alko retail outlets until 9 PM and frees bars and restaurants from a requirement to apply for special permits to stay open at 1:30 AM, allowing them to continue serving until 4 AM.

Also among the changes, bars will also now be allowed to advertise "happy hour" offerings.

Taxes up

In tandem with the package of reforms, Parliament also signed off on a government proposal to raise alcohol taxes, a move intended to reduce consumption. Higher taxes will most affect the prices of beers, ciders and wines. It is estimated, for example, that a six percent increase will add about 7 cents to the price of a small bottle of medium-strength beer.

Heated debate

The government's bill to introduce more liberal alcohol policies was heatedly debated by Parliament into the early hours of Friday morning before being passed 124–65 with eight absences and two abstentions.

A number of opposition party MPs voiced concerns that the reforms will undermine the position of the state-owned Alko which holds a monopoly on sales of strong drink, and called for clearer regulations governing distance sales and purchases for delivery from other EU countries.

Most of the provisions of the new legislation come into force at the beginning of March. Longer bar and restaurant opening hours, and regulations on the retail sales of mixed drinks take effect as of the first of the year.

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