Government moves to loosen alcohol laws

The three governing parties have reached agreement on a raft of changes to Finland's strict alcohol regulations. These would range from allowing retail sales of stronger drinks by grocery shops, microbreweries and restaurants to doing away with fenced-off serving areas at festivals.

Image: Esko Pulliainen / Yle

Stronger beer may appear on Finnish grocery stores early next year, along with many other changes loosening up Finland's strict alcohol regulations. The maximum alcohol content of beverages sold in regular shops appears set to rise from the present 4.7 percent to 5.5 percent. This would also cover cider and long drinks.

The three government parties finally reached agreement on the long-debated issue on Thursday. The pro-business National Coalition Party and the populist Finns Party have long backed the idea, but Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's Centre has balked. It argues that allowing so-called "A" strength beer into corner shops will increase overall alcohol consumption.

Time rules to change at restaurants but not shops

Under a compromise struck by MPs representing each of the coalition parties, there will be no change to the times when alcohol may be sold in normal shops, that is, 7 am to 9 pm.

The move has been backed by microbreweries and shops, but opposed by the state alcohol retailer Alko, which now has a monopoly on retail sales of drinks stronger than 4.7 percent. The change will certainly eat into Alko's sales.

The Centre Party's Minister of Family Affairs and Social Service, Juha Rehula, is to finalise the government's stance before the Midsummer holiday in late June.

More flexibility in serving, selling and advertising

Yle has learned that these other changes are in store, too:

1. Restaurants and bars will be permitted to begin take-away retail sales of drinks with alcohol content of up to 5.5%.

2. Microbreweries will be allowed retail sales of stronger beers

3. Alko shops will remain open until 9 pm on weekdays instead of the current 8 pm

4. Separate licenses for late-night serving of alcohol at bars and restaurants will be abolished, so all licensed premises will be allowed to serve until 4 am if they want.

5. Separate "A" and "B" licenses for restaurants will disappear

6. Fenced-off areas for alcohol sales at festivals will no longer be required

7. Restrictions on raw materials for home preparation of beer and wine will be removed, as will restrictions on making drinks by fermentation

8. Those aged 16 and 17 will be allowed to serve alcohol under supervision

9. Restrictions on alcohol advertising will be loosened. For instance lists of manufacturers' and wholesalers' products may be printed or published online, while the use of phrases such as "happy hour" will be allowed.