Summer booze ban may not be legal

  • 2007-06-06
  • By Joel Alas

Sipping cans of beer or cider in the evenings is a summer tradition.

TALLINN - Drinkers in Tallinn were hit by an unexpected restriction on alcohol over the summer, with take-away sales from shops prohibited after 8 p.m. However the restrictions may not be legal and could be repealed as quickly as they were introduced. Harju County governor Varner Lootsmann applied the restrictions on June 1, saying alcohol sales needed to be controlled during summer to better control public order.

"Alcohol is certainly too freely available in Estonia," Lootsmann told The Baltic Times.
"The number of misdemeanors committed due to alcohol abuse has risen rapidly since 2005 during the summer holidays."
He said there had been an increase of fires and car accidents related to alcohol abuse, and that minors were more likely to drink during the summer holidays. Lootsmann said he was prompted to impose the restrictions by proposals from the Northern Police Prefecture and the Harju local councils.
However he was quickly challenged by Regional Affairs minister Vallo Reimaa, who ordered his department to investigate whether county governors held such authority. Reimaa said he would announce on June 8 whether the summer restrictions would be upheld, and said shops could continue selling take-away bottles until 11 p.m. in the meantime.
Drinkers were angered by the restrictions, which were only imposed in Harju county, which encompasses Tallinn and some outlying suburbs.

Some young people were overheard calling friends in nearby cities to request alcohol deliveries. Others commented that they would simply drink in bars, which were not affected by the bans.
The restrictions also irked alcohol producers such as the Saku brewery, which experienced a major decline in sales during the post-riot ban.
"We definitely do not agree with the restrictions, and we really hope that they will be renegotiated. It is hard to do business when the legislative environment is changing so unexpectedly and so often," Saku Brewery's communications manager Livia Kulm said.
County governors rarely step into the political sphere. Theirs is an antiquated office, one which some government ministers believe should be abolished.

Governors hold the power to impose alcohol restrictions only in special circumstances, such as Children's Day, song festival days or the first day of school. Lootsmann attempted to decree the whole summer as a special event.
"The county governor cannot impose general rules and regulations. It is his competence to restrict the sale in alcohol in special cases. Whether or not the advent of summer is an urgent reason to restrict the sale of alcohol is a topic that needs to be analyzed," Reimaa said.