EU clamps down on Greece wine industry, raising concerns over compulsory cooperative membership

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: EOSS Samian wine.
Picture credit: EOSS Samian wine.

Related tags European union

The European Commission has contacted the Union of Vinicultural Cooperatives of Samos (UVC, EOSS) in Greece over concerns about a compulsory cooperative membership, which prevents individual wine growers from producing and marketing wine independently.

It has formally made a request to Greece to comply with the common organization of agriculture market (CMO) rules in the wine sector, established under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, following a complaint by wine growers, Evagellos Mytilinaios and Ioannis Kostakis.

Samian wine

The case concerned the obligation imposed on the applicants as UVC members and their inability to obtain a winemaking permit to market their wine.

The EU Commission claims individual wine growers on the island of Samos, are obliged to be members of local cooperatives which have to deliver their must and grapes production to UVC, which has the exclusive right of producing and marketing Samian wine.

"Grape must" is the liquid product obtained naturally or by physical processes from fresh grapes.

The individual wine growers are also prevented from being registered as producers of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) wine.

The Commission takes the view the obligation to deliver all their production of must or grapes to a producer organization amounts to a prohibition placed on the individual producer to produce wine himself/herself.

The Greek authorities also violate Article 103 (1) of the CMO Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013) whereby "a protected designation of origin and a protected geographical indication may be used by any operator marketing a wine which has been produced in conformity with the corresponding product specification​".

Mytilinaios and Kostakis, sought permission from UVC on a number of occasions to withdraw their membership but received no reply.

European Court of Human Rights

Finally, the application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights which concluded the national authorities’ refusal to grant the applicants a winegrowing licence exceeded ‘what was necessary to strike a fair balance between the conflicting interests and could not be regarded as proportionate to the aim pursued’.

The Court held there had been a violation of Article 11 of the Convention and Greece had to pay the applicants €6,000 each in respect of non-pecuniary damage and €2,000 in respect of costs and expenses.

Following the court ruling, the EU Commission asked Greece to amend its law on compulsory cooperatives membership (Compulsory Law 6085/1934), which prevents individual wine growers in Samos, Greece, from producing and marketing wine independently.

However, the Commission considers the reply does not respond adequately to the concerns raised and so is now sending a reasoned opinion.

Greece has two months to take the necessary measures to remedy the situation, otherwise the Commission may decide to refer Greece to the Court of Justice of the EU.

UVC/ EOSS was founded in 1934 with the participation of 26 local cooperatives representing all of the wine growers on the island.

Since its foundation, EOSS has been harvesting grapes and crafting wine in two wineries located in the areas of Malagari and Karlovassi, respectively. From the wineries, the union distributes its bulk or bottled wine to the rest of Greece and throughout the world.

Exports constitute a significant part of EOSS business activities and cover 80% of the approximately 7,000 tons of wine the union produces annually. France alone imports 60% of the wine produced on the island of Samos, while other countries that also import large quantities of Samos wines are England, Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, the US, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Finland, Scandinavian countries and the Far East.

BeverageDaily has contacted EOSS for a response and is awaiting a reply.

Source:​ European Commission case of Mytilinaios and Kostakis v. Greece

Application no.​ 29389/11

A violation of Article 11​ (freedom of assembly and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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