Centre seeking compromise on alcohol law reform

The ruling parties’ efforts to iron out the final few details of a draft bill to introduce changes to the alcohol legislation of Finland hit a serious deadlock on Wednesday.

Annika Saarikko (Centre), the chairperson of the working group appointed to draw up the reform bill, announced that the preconditions for continuing the negotiations do not exist and that the meeting scheduled for yesterday had consequently been cancelled.

I regret to announce that the working group didn’t convene today,” she said.

Saarikko revealed that she and Timo Kalli, the Centre’s second representative in the working group, have been granted a mandate to determine if the working group is willing to revisit sections of the draft bill agreed upon last year.

The working group consists of two representatives from each of the three ruling parties – the Centre, the Finns Party and the National Coalition. The National Coalition’s representatives, Outi Mäkelä and Sinuhe Wallinheimo, said they were surprised by the decision to cancel the meeting and voiced their unwillingness to seek a compromise on what was already a compromise.

“The chairperson single-handedly called off the meeting. You’d have to ask her about the preconditions,” commented Mäkelä.

“We’re of the opinion that the baseline agreement is good and that it should the basis for the negotiations.”

Wallinheimo, in turn, revealed that the meeting was called off abruptly no more than an hour before it was scheduled to begin. “We’ll have to see where this is going. The Centre is obviously wary, but I’m sure that we can find some kind of an agreement,” he said.

The six-member working group agreed upon the outlines of the reform bill over a year ago. The bill would, for example, allow grocery shops to retail beverages with a maximum alcohol content of 5.5 per cent regardless of their production method. Grocery shops are currently allowed to retail fermented beverages with an alcohol content not exceeding 4.7 per cent.

The original objective was to enact the amendments before mid-2017.

The draft bill, however, came under crushing criticism from a number of stakeholders, stirring up concerns especially among members of the Centre Party.

“It’s a well-known fact that some members of our parliamentary group are concerned about the effects of having strong beers and canned cocktails [in grocery shops],” confirmed Antti Kaikkonen, the chairperson of the Centre Parliamentary Group.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) was reluctant to comment on the developments on Wednesday. He emphasised that the fate of the reform bill now lies with the parliamentary groups and reminded that the government will discuss the draft bill only after the working group has reached a settlement.

Sipilä also stated that the reform is not among the top priorities of his government. “This certainly isn’t one of the biggest reform on our agenda,” he said.

No timetable for continuing the negotiations has yet been provided.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

Photo: Martti Kainulainen – Lehtikuva

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