MEPs put the brakes on EU wine reform

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

Current proposals to reform Europe's troubled wine sector are too
radical, an EU Parliament committee has said, tabling amendments
that promise a heated debate over the next few months.

The distillation system used to dispose of surplus wine should be retained in the short-term and member states should be able to veto grubbing-up schemes in their own countries, MEPs in the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee agreed.

The measures, to be voted on by the full Parliament in February, were laid down in a report by MEP Katerina Batzeli.

The move indicates that pressure is growing on the European Commission to water down its plans for radical reform of the EU wine sector.

It proposed last June to rip out 400,000 hectares of vines in an attempt to drain away Europe's 1.5bn-litre wine surplus. The EU spends nearly half its annual wine budget, around €500m, on distilling wines that won't sell.

The Batzeli report says there should be compulsory distillation to act as a safety net during the transition period created by reform, and that a voluntary distillation system should continue to be there for those who want it.

It also joins large wine nations, notably France and Spain, in demanding that "the issue of permanent abandonment of wine-growing must not be the centrepiece of reform".

EU wine reform has already fallen behind schedule. Commission officials had expected to announce formal legislative proposals this month, but heated debate between member states means this will not happen until at least June.

Some fear the setback will dampen the benefits reform could bring, as EU wines continue to struggle against the New World in growing markets like the UK and US.

"We are losing time. Things need to happen much more quickly,"​ said Denis Verdier, head of France's Wine Co-operatives' Union, to​.

Verdier is part of a growing number of wine industry leaders in France who believe some reform is necessary, although he admitted "there is still some resistance"​ among winemakers further down the sector.

Protests and possibly more violence are considered likely this year.

A Commission spokesperson refused to apologise for the delay in wine reform proposals. "It will take the time we need."

A way out of a potential stalemate on reform plans may be found through the Commission's plan to allocate 'national envelopes' to each member state. In theory, this would allow countries such as France or Spain the flexibility to continue funding a distillation scheme for their own winemakers.

See the​ archives for extensive, on-the-ground coverage of France's wine industry problems and EU plans to reform Europe's wine industry.

Related topics Markets Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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