Grocery Store Alcohol Sales Illegal, Minister Affirms Skip to content
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Grocery Store Alcohol Sales Illegal, Minister Affirms

Hagkaup, a chain of grocery stores, has announced that customers can order alcohol online and collect in store, starting next month. Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson believes that the chain is breaking the law by doing this, Vísir reports.

Legal grey area

The Icelandic state has had a near-monopoly on retail alcohol sales, but is not able to ban foreign-based shops from online sales. Such shops have become increasingly active, operating in a legal grey area where they accept “international orders” while delivering alcohol right away to the customer from local stock. The European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement, which Iceland is a party to, allows for this.

“I don’t like it,” Willum said when asked about Hagkaup’s plan. “As the Minister of Health I must look at the issue from a public health standpoint and the larger context. We have a state monopoly because it’s the preferred way of selling this problematic product while safeguarding public health and this needs to be protected.”

Police have been criticised for not cracking down on online sales. “I think that people should follow the law and the police need to approach the issue on those grounds,” Willum said.

Coalition split on the issue

Willum is a member of the Progressive Party and his coalition partner Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and leader of the Left-Green Movement, also opposes Hagkaup’s plan. The third party in the coalition, the right-leaning Independence Party, wants to liberalise alcohol sales to a greater degree, according to Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, Minister of Justice.

“It’s been my opinion that we should create a proper and clear environment for these online sales of alcohol,” she said. “It’s important to note that this is already permitted through the EEA Agreement. That only applies to foreign online shops and I think that’s an untenable situation which leads to discrimination in the market.”

She has said that she aims to change the laws on alcohol sales in the near future. “The leader of the Left-Green Movement and the Minister of Health have voiced their opinion and I think it’s no secret that their parties don’t like the idea of online sales. We in the Independence Party, however, have pushed for the liberalisation of this market.”

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