Boel pushes wine reforms in Europe

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Mariann fischer boel European union

Mariann Fischer Boel is on a tour of the EU
to push controversial changes to the way wine makers
are subsidised in the bloc.

The agriculture commissioner's speech at the Italian Senate last week demonstrated that the European Commission is not going to relinquish its ideas for reform any time soon.

Boel warned that the Italian audience that the ratio of exports and consumption to imports and production is "simply not good enough" .

"We are today in a situation where imports and production are increasing and consumption falling," she said.

"In the years ahead we could run an annual surplus of almost 13 million hectolitres."

Boel warned that reforms are needed in Italy, whose wine culture is "more than 2000 years old", if standards of quality are to be maintained.

She put forward a number of reforms which, she claimed, would reinvigorate the industry as well as save the commission money.

The EU will be able to hold on to €200m by abolishing the scheme of distilling wine that won't sell, initially set up to combat competition from the New World, as, she argued, producers should shoulder this responsibility.

Boel claimed that the EU would not be abandoning wine makers with this move, and instead she pledged to give each member state more control over its own wine production, with a "national envelope" to spend how it chose.

"I have proposed a method which I think would be fair and workable which is 50 per cent of the budget, 25 per cent of the area and 25 per cent of the production," she explained.

She also pushed for the controversial "grubbing up" scheme, which involves paying wine-makers to dig up their vineyards.

Big producer countries, especially France, Italy and Spain, have repeatedly criticised plans to rip up vines as too negative, and the target has already been halved from 400,000 hectares of land to 200,000.

Boel however defended the plans, eager to point out that the scheme is not obligatory, and that the proposed digging up of 200,000 hectares by 2014 is only a "hopeful estimate".

The "grubbing up" plans were initially put forward early this year, as MEPs looked to drain the EU's 1.5bn-litre wine surplus.

She also stated that the only obstacle to the grubbing up plans is not industry detractors, but the practice of irregular vine plantings, firmly warning that "each hectare of irregular plantings must be regularised, or it must be dug up."

A compensation scheme for winemakers, similar to that offered to EU sugar cane farmers, will be drawn up by the commission and thrashed out by member states.

Not all experts agree with Boel's reforms however, with the larger wine-makers fearful that the commission only cares about saving money.

Katerina Batzeli, an EU MP, said in February: "The Commission's Communication doesn't reflect the real needs of the European wine sector.

Its "accounting" logic of proposals on grubbing-up, on the immediate abolishment of distillations as well as on enrichment, aim only at accomplishing budget savings."

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