Commission to unveil EU wine reform plans

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wine European union

The explosive debate on what to do about Europe's troubled wine
sector will begin in earnest today as the European Commission
outlines several options for member countries.

The Commission will present its initial ideas to member states on what could be done to dry up Europe's 1.5bn litre 'wine lake', and make the sector more competitive.

Legislative proposals should then be published at the end of the year.

Suffering on the EU wine sector has spread over the last couple of years due to overproduction, falling consumption in the bloc as a whole and rising competition from the New World in crucial mid-priced markets.

The Commission's reform suggestions are expected to include ripping up vines and curtailing planting rights to curb overproduction, as well as options on changing winemaking rules and categories for different wines.

It is also likely that member states will be offered a degree of flexibility to re-structure their industries according to their different needs.

Many in the wine industry and in government accept that something has to change, but the debate on what and how is likely to be fierce.

Four of the EU's biggest wine producers - France, Italy, Spain and Portugal - have already joined forces to tell the Commission not to cut its annual budget for wine, estimated at between €1.2bn and €1.5bn.

They added that most winemakers who rip up vines should continue to have the option of replacing them with vines that make more consumer-friendly wine. And, they said member states should still have the option of using 'crisis distillation' funds to turn wine that won't sell into undrinkable, industrial alcohol.

The crisis distillation scheme, begun in 1982, was brought back in after a two year break last year to cope with the problems in Europe. France and Italy were recently promised a combined €131m from the EU purse to dump this year's excess wine.

The Commission, however, has said it would rather see the money used more intelligently. "This money could be more usefully spent on improving market balance, boosting quality and promoting sales of European wines."


Aside from the government wrangling, the Commission's promise of "deep-rooted reform"​ is also likely to cause unrest throughout the vineyards of smaller wineries.

Wine unions in France's largest wine region, Languedoc Roussillon, fear that around a third of the 1,350 businesses there will disappear over the next few years.

Parts of Languedoc have been badly hit by the wine market problems, and the situation has led to a year of protests, as well as attacks on foreign wine transports and government buildings by the militant vintner group CRAV (Regional Action Committee of Winemakers).

Tension remains high, and a source close to CRAV told​ the group's membership was growing in the region as debts and falling wine prices took their toll on businesses. Wine is the third biggest export industry in Languedoc Roussillon.

See the archives for many on-the-ground articles covering the French wine crisis.

Related topics Markets Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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