Rural affairs minister not in favor of local alcohol sales restrictions

Beer being sold for consumption at a bar.
Beer being sold for consumption at a bar. Source: ERR

Members of the Reform Party are interested in making changes to the Alcohol Act that would grant cities, towns and municipalities the right to ban the sale of alcohol at entertainment establishments until 10 a.m. Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE) does not support the bill, saying that different restrictions throughout the country would only cause confusion and lead to unfair competition. According to a proposal of the Ministry of Rural Affairs, the same time-related restrictions should apply nationwide.

In late September, 13 Reform MPs submitted a bill aimed at expanding local governments' rights in the regulation of the sales of alcohol so that the sale of alcohol at entertainment and dining establishments can be banned until 10 a.m.

Reform's proposal was submitted at the same time as Tallinn city government unveiled a plan to expand restrictions in the city on entertainment establishments in order to cut back on breaches of public order and the overconsumption of alcohol. The city government approved the introduction of restrictions on Nov. 6, but the restrictions only covered as far as 6 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekend days, the latest time allowed by law.

According to the tighter restrictions, which will enter into effect in Tallinn next June 1, the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on site will be banned on worknights from 2 a.m. through 6 a.m., and on weekend nights from 3 a.m. through 7 a.m.

The bill of amendments to the Alcohol Act submitted by the Reform Party parliamentary group, however, would allow local governments to restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on site from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. on weeknights, and from midnight to 10 a.m. on weekend nights.

The bill would also leave it up to local governments to decide whether these time-based restrictions would be enforced throughout their respective territories or only in parts thereof.

According to the Reform MPs, the right to enact restrictions should be in the hands of local governments, as the state should not be the one to dictate where and when restrictions should be enforced.

"If a local government finds, for example, that individuals consuming alcohol at some bar at 7:30 in the morning are causing a problem for residents in the area and public order in town, and the local government wants to restrict the early morning sale of alcohol in entertainment establishments, then according to the Alcohol Act as currently in force, the local government lacks the right to do so," the Reform MPs said. "Consuming alcohol in the morning is not a fundamental right, however, and the state should not say that one can freely start doing so at 6 or 7 a.m."

Järvik: Times should be uniform nationwide

The bill was sent for a round of approvals from four different ministries, only the Ministry of Rural Affairs of which did not support it. Järvik noted that the goal of the bill was entirely reasonable, but the ministry nonetheless would not be supporting it.

Järvik believes that alcohol policy should be uniform throughout the country, otherwise it would lead to "great uncertainty and ambiguity which is very difficult for someone to navigate."

Instead of granting local governments the right to decide for themselves, the minister recommends resolving the matter on the legal level, because otherwise various parts of the country will start to see different early morning times at which alcohol may be consumed at entertainment establishments.

Järvik also found that different times on the local government level would also create unfair competition between businesses. "Establishing a restriction on the legal level would lead to a harmonization of competitive conditions, i.e. the equal treatment of all businesses," he added.

Reform's bill was supported by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications as well as the Ministry of Social Affairs; the Ministry of Finance responded that it had no recommendations regarding the bill.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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