An interesting fact I learnt this week: Until very recently the brand Absolut Vodka was actually owned by the Swedish state. After Bacardi and Smirnoff, Absolut is the highest selling brand of alcoholic spirit in the world. Unlike Ikea furniture it is still made here in Sweden.
Absolut is owned by a company called Vin & Spirit, who were originally set up by the government in 1917. Until 1994 they had a national monopoly over all production and distribution of alcohol in Sweden. This had to be relaxed before Sweden could join the EU in 1995, however the government maintained ownership. While western governments the world over were quick to sell-off everything they owned in the 1980s and 90s, Sweden was largely protected from privatisation from successive left-of-centre governments. However since 2006, Sweden are currently going through one of those rare phases in their history where they’re run by conservatives. (Although right-wing by Swedish standards is still left of Kevin Rudd.) One of their election promises was a plan to catch up with the rest of Europe and privatise a number of state-owned enterprises including V&S.
This week V&S were sold to French company Pernod Ricard. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they decide Swedish taxes are too high and relocate production to Estonia. Yet it is still surprising to hear of a state enterprise like this lasting until 2008. In fact despite recent sell-offs the Swedish state still own a lot of things. They own Apoteket (chemists), SJ (national railways), Vasakronan (real estate), Vattenfall (energy), Teracom (television and radio) and of course Systembolaget (bottle shops). Apoteket and Systembolaget have monopolies over their respective industries. The Swedish government also part owners of Nordea (a bank), SAS (airline) and Telia (telecommunications).