EU wine reform may be derailed

The world of European wines probably won't be turned upside-down as some had feared after the European Parliament this week voted to dilute a planned reform of the European Union wine sector.

Even though the Parliament's role is only as a consultancy, it usually sets the tone for EU actions. EU agriculture ministers are scheduled to meet next week to create a final compromise on wine industry reform in an attempt to reverse falling sales and remove trade-distorting measures.

Among the most controversial points that were eliminated was a proposed blanket ban on adding sugar to wines. That practice is common in cooler countries such as Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, to boost alcohol content in mass-market wines.

In addition, the Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg, France (its headquarters is seen above), also called for:

• Subsidies for distillation to be maintained.

• Aid to producers of lower-quality wines who decide to stop production to be disbursed within three years instead of five.

• Subsidies to be maintained for wine enrichment with pure "must" grape juice, something practiced in southern countries as opposed to the northern nations' sugaring of wine.

• Rejection of a proposal to fully liberalize by 2014 planting rights for vintners producing quality wines on areas previously not used as vineyards.

Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU farm commissioner, said she would not agree to a complete watering down of her proposals to boost sales by producing more quality wines and to reduce "wine lakes" that cost hundreds of millions of euros to get rid of.

Background: The European Union (EU) is a union of 27 independent nations based on the European Communities and founded to enhance political, economic and social co-operation. It formerly was called the European Community or the European Economic Community. The European Parliament is directly elected every five years by EU citizens to represent their interests. The present parliament has 785 members from all 27 EU countries.

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