The European Commission has announced that it intends to revisit the planned abolition of planting rights in Europe's wine industry – a proposal that has created widespread concern amongst wine producers.
The planting rights, a system of regulating vineyards, are currently due to be phased out by the end of 2018. The stated aim is to free up the wine industry to respond to international demand and changing fashions, by giving wine-growers the opportunity to plant grape varieties of their choice.
But many winemakers are worried by the likely consequences of this move. They have warned of a risk of overproduction, falling prices and unfair competition, as well as the possibility that producers on favored sites may have an advantage over those working in more difficult geographical regions.
At a meeting in Brussels of the expert group on the future of the wine industry, the European Commission’s director general for agriculture, José Manuel Silva Rodriguez, said it was time to think about maintaining a regulatory framework, but with greater flexibility than that which exists today
"Whatever the system of regulating planting, it should be more flexible and non restrictive,” he said, adding that it should cover most of the industry.
However, Silva Rodriguez stressed that completely dropping the 2008 reforms and maintaining the status quo was out of the question, as that would be “a boon” for Europe's competitors in the New World, such as Chile, Argentine and South Africa. The wine industry in those countries was not regulated in the same way as Europe, he said, which meant that producers could adapt easily to changing fashions.
In practice, Silva Rodriguez said, all players in the European wine industry, including wine-growers, would “have to become the real actors in regulating plantings.”
He suggested that in the event of an explosion in new plantings, a safety clause could be triggered once a given threshold was reached, after which further plantings would be frozen.
The Commission’s agriculture spokesman, Roger Waite, said after the meeting that the ideas presented by Silva Rodriguez were generally welcomed by the expert group. It is due to report back by the end of November. The group’s conclusions will then provide the basis for legislative proposals to be drafted by the Commission.
Waite said the new legislation could come into effect at the end of 2015, after adoption by the European Parliament and member states.