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PR(98)15: The EFTA Surveillance Authority has opened infringement procedures against Norway concerning the Norwegian alcohol legislation


The EFTA Surveillance Authority has, on 10 September 1998, sent three letters of formal notice to Norway for failure to comply with EEA rules on the free movement of goods with regard to that State's legislation on the import and trade of alcoholic beverages. The letters do not question the exisistence and operation of the retail monopoly.

Since the EEA Agreement entered into force, the Surveillance Authority has received various complaints concerning different aspects of the Norwegian legislation relating to alcoholic beverages. These complaints have been the subject of several rounds of both formal and informal consultations between the Norwegian Authorities and the EFTA Surveillance Authority.

During the same period of time, important cases have been dealt with by the EFTA Court and the European Court of Justice. In the light of these cases and after a thorough examination of the Norwegian alcohol legislation it was decided to address three different aspects of that legislation. 

One letter concerns the requirements to obtain and maintain an import licence, wholesale licence and a licence to serve alcoholic beverages. The Norwegian legislation and practices imply excessive fees and the requirement of double authorisation for restaurants wishing to import alcoholic beverages and have an effect equivalent to quantitative restrictions on import within the meaning of Article 11 of the EEA Agreement.

A second letter deals with the different treatment of alcoholic beverages with similar alcohol content by volume, both in law and in practice. First of all, the application of two methods at the retail level where beer with an alcohol content between 2,5% and 4,75% by volume may be sold outside the outlets of the State monopoly, while other beverages with the same alcohol content may only be sold through the State monopoly leads to discrimination contrary to Article 16 of the EEA Agreement. Secondly, the application of more restrictive measures regarding licences to serve certain products, the majority of which are imported, compared with other products containing a similar percentage of alcohol by volume, constitutes a measure having equivalent effect to quantitative restrictions on imports within the meaning of Article 11 of the EEA Agreement,

Finally, one letter addresses the prohibition of beer containing more than 7% alcohol by volume as it constitutes a quantitative restriction or measure having equivalent effect on imports within the meaning of Article 11 of the EEA Agreement.

The Norwegian Government is invited to submit its observations to the content of these letters of formal notice within two months upon their receipt. In light of these observations the Surveillance Authority will proceed to consider whether to deliver a Reasoned Opinion. That is the last opportunity for a State to take corrective measures before the Authority considers whether to bring the matter before the EFTA Court.

For further information please contact the Goods Directorate on tel. 286 1871 (Lilja Vidarsdottir, Director or Kjerstin Ongre, Officer)

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