Challenges in the wine sector for the next European Parliament

In view of the upcoming European Elections – 25 May – EFOW has decided to ask candidate MEPs to position themselves on a number of issues regarding the wine sector. In this roadmap, EFOW establishes a brief assessment of the current legislature 2009-2014 and presents the challenges that future MEPs will have to address.

Wine: a competitive sector

Vine-growing and wine production are an essential economic and labour intensive activity for an important number of Member States and regional economies, and for the EU economy as a whole. The European wine sector is a strategic asset given that it is by far the largest EU agricultural export. Exports in value in 2011 amounted to €7.6 billion accounting thus for nearly a quarter of European exports of agricultural products. This is mainly due to the great reputation and exceptional quality of Europe’s Geographical Indication (GI) wines. These wines are a value-added business rooted in skill-rich traditions which cannot be outsourced or imitated on the cheap. This success has spilling over effects, notably on tourism as wine-producing regions have become a hotspot for tourists looking to enjoy the unique EU landscapes, culture and gastronomy.

The decisive role of the European Parliament in 2009-2014

EFOW considers that the European Parliament’s decisions have been essential in promoting the development of a sustainable and forward-looking wine sector. In fact, MEPs have cleverly used the EP’s new powers (co-decision obtained under the Lisbon Treaty) to stop ill-conceived initiatives.

One of the most emblematic campaigns taken on by MEPs was the file of the rosé wine. In its proposal, the European Commission wanted to allow this type of wine to be produced by mixing a red and a white wine. Traditional rosé is made with specific types of grapes, following a specific cultivation and fermentation process in a number of well-established regions. Thanks to the support of MEPs this proposal was taken off the table and consumers and producers can still enjoy real rosé wine.

The issue on which the EP’s role was most determining was the dossier on the liberalisation of planting rights ( In spite of a reluctant Commission and a divided Council, MEPs stood their ground during 3 years and were able to negotiate a new regulatory tool allowing for an orderly growth of the wine sector. The implementing rules governing this new regime are currently debated in an expert group (member States and an observatory from the EP) and should be defined in a Delegated Act on vine planting authorisations.

In the recent CAP reform, MEPs also included new positive measures in the wine national support programs to improve key aspects for the competitiveness of the EU wine sector: innovation, environmental sustainability and promotion in the internal market of GI wines and of a moderate and responsible consumption.

Wine is not only the most regulated agricultural product, it is also a product of culture and pleasure. In light of the above, the European Parliament approved a temporary exoneration for the labelling of the nutritional information and of a list of ingredients on wine labels. The idea being that the Commission should determine first what type of information should appear on a label for consumers to make an informed choice.

The EP also played a major role in securing a greater protection for GI wines and traditional terms. It has supported the inclusion of a chapter on GIs in all international trade agreements (for instance in the ongoing negotiations between the EU and the USA, the so-called TTIP). It has called on the Commission to act upon GI wines frauds (e.g. wine-kits in the single market bearing a GI name). It has stood firm in protecting European traditional terms (ex. Chateau) in spite of growing pressure from American producers. Most importantly, it has asked the European Commission not to launch yet another reform of the sector and to stop diluting its successful GI policy in favour of non-GI wines.

Finally, the EP was able to make sure that European wines could benefit from the agricultural promotion policy. EU GI wines are the gem of the European agri-food business and have a positive impact on the EU’s agriculture market share (evaluated at €30.4 billion in 2010). Our traditional production methods and our terroirs represent an important comparative advantage. It is very positive that they are fully included in the European promotion policy and that they can carry-out specific wine promotional campaigns all over the world.

Challenges for the wine sector in the upcoming legislature (2014-2019)

There are a number of important challenges facing the sector which will determine in the coming years its competitiveness on the world stage.

Vines are perennial plants which need long-term programs. European wine operators do not need in the coming years a new reform of the sector but rather time to adapt to all the new rules. In fact, the 2008 reform of the wine Common Market Organisation profoundly changed the sector and the 2013 CAP reform brought also important modifications. The sector now needs stability in the long-run to invest in its production.

There is a pending question that will have to be addressed by the new MEPs shortly after their election: whether or not the Delegated Act on vine planting authorisations proposed by the European Commission is in line with the political agreement of the CAP reform on this issue. This new tool should help the wine sector to prevent crisis situations, to adapt to market changes and to pursue its quality policy. If these conditions are not met, EFOW believes the Delegated Act should be rejected by the EP.

The EU will need to develop a global GI wine policy to strengthen the protection of its GI wines in third countries and on the Internet. The TTIP represents a major opportunity to put an end to the abusive use of our GI names in the US market, the EU wines leading exports destination country. It is time to amend the unfair legislation which classifies 17 prestigious European wine names under the euphemistic term of “semi-generics”. A similar battle will have to be fought on the Internet. ICANN, the American private domain name system technical oversight body, will have to decide in the coming months whether or not to delegate the “.wine” and “.vin” to one of 3 companies who have presented a file. At present time, no rules are previewed to protect GIs, whereas they clearly protect trade marks. The risk being that,, or, just to name a few, are assigned to a user who has no link with the wine region.

Moreover, by the end of 2014, the Commission will have to publish the results of its study on whether or not wine labels should bear a list of ingredients and nutritional information. It is important that future MEPs take into account the particularities of the wine sector.

Finally, the re-establishment of the Wine Intergroup will also be of major importance for the sector. This Intergroup exists since 1994 and brings together MEPs from all political parties with an interest in the wine sector. Its mission has been to inform its member on topics regarding their wine regions and the sector as a whole and it has helped MEPs to raise their concerns in the EP. EFOW sincerely hopes that the Wine Intergroup will continue to exist.