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EU ministers broker wine deal

Watered-down plans to reform the European wine industry have been agreed by EU Agriculture Ministers after three days of negotiations in Brussels.

A voluntary three-year grubbing up scheme covering up to 175,000 hectares of vineyards is included in the plans.

This is less than half the 400,000ha originally proposed by Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel after the plans came under fire from France and Italy in particular.

The Commissioner also had to backtrack on her plans to ban chaptalisation after running into opposition from Northern European wine-producing countries. However, maximum levels of enrichment will be reduced.

Subsidies for crisis distillation are to be phased out by 2013, with the money saved then allocated at a national level for investment in vineyards, wineries, innovations and marketing – part of a general move towards a devolution of decision-making away from Brussels and onto member nations.

The measures also promise simplified labelling rules, most significantly allowing wines without geographical indication to mention vintage and grape variety on their labels. The EU will also take over responsibility for changes to winemaking practices.

The EU said of the reforms: ‘The changes will bring balance to the wine market, phase out wasteful and expensive market intervention measures and allow the budget to be used for more positive, proactive measures which will boost the competitiveness of European wines.’

Fischer Boel added: ‘I am delighted that we were able to find a compromise and I’d like to thank the Ministers for their willingness to solve tricky issues.

‘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. I hope the Member States will make good use of the new tools available.’

The reforms, which are budget-neutral, are due to take effect on 1 August 2008.

Written by Richard Woodard

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