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EU agrees watered-down wine reform

A diluted EU wine reform has been agreed this week. Following pressure from several European member countries who were unhappy about aspects of the agreement, some of the most radical reforms to take the wine market forward have been toned down or delayed.

Northern European countries that objected to the proposed ban on sugar for enriching wines have got their way. The use of sugar, along with must, will now continue to be permitted, although maximum levels will be reduced. However, there’s even a get-out clause here as European Union agriculture ministers have agreed to allow Member States to request the Commission to increase the level of enrichment for exceptional climatic reasons.

Subsidies for such things as distillation schemes and must aid, which were to be abandoned from day one under the proposed reform, are now to be phased out over a four-year period to give winemakers a chance to adapt.

However, the ban on planting, which was to have ended in 2013, won’t now be phased out until 2015, with the possibility that it could continue at national level until 2018.

At the same time, there will be a three-year voluntary grubbing-up scheme to encourage unprofitable producers to remove up to 175,000 hectares of vines. This is less than half the original figure proposed, which would have seen 400,000 hectares of vines taken out.

The European Commission still believes the revised plan will bring balance to the wine market and allow the budget to be used for more positive, proactive measures, which will boost the competitiveness of European wines.

Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, said, ‘Instead of spending much of our budget getting rid of unwanted surpluses, we can now concentrate on taking on our competitors and winning back market share. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we have ended up with a well-balanced agreement.’

The reform comes into force on 1st August next year.