Brussels Could Give on Wine Reform

In the face of opposition from France, Germany, and others the European Commission may compromise on its controversial wine reform package

The European Commission has said it could agree to a compromise on its controversial wine reform package, amid persistent opposition to its original plan by a group of countries, led by France and Germany.

A meeting of agriculture ministers on Wednesday (27 September) highlighted the continuing differences among EU member states over the commission's proposal to overhaul the bloc's wine production sector to adapt it to rising global competition.

"To be frank, there was no unanimity on this issue," EU agriculture commissioner Marian Fischer Boel admitted when speaking to journalists after the ministerial session.

"I could hear a lot of criticism but not many solutions so the question remains how we find the common ground on the problematic issues," she added.

She suggested the EU executive would be open to a compromise on some of the most contentious points raised by some national capitals while stressing that she expects them to "show the same [openness]."

The Brussels plan includes measures to bring an end to the years-long practice of paying the producers to get rid of unsold wine which currently costs the bloc's taxpayers around €500 million every year.

Given current trends, excess wine production is expected to reach 15 percent of annual production by the end of this decade -- which would mean an enormous financial burden.

Instead, farmers would be compensated for uprooting uncompetitive vineyards -- with the commission envisaging that 200,000 hectares of vineyards would go -- while EU aid would no longer be linked to production surpluses.

The commission has already watered down its earlier plans on this particular issue as it had originally suggested that double the amount of the vineyard area should be scrapped -- it has indicated it is not willing to compromise further on this.

But Mrs Fischer Boel pointed out that she could agree to changes to two other difficult issues.

Following protests by several countries, including France and Germany, she is willing to delay the timetable for ending the current restrictions on planting rights -- in order to allow competitive wine producers to expand their production.

"Whether you take one or two years more that wouldn't spoil everything," she said.

Also, she suggested there could be some solution to the problem of banning the use of sugar for enriching wine. This is opposed by Germany and several northern and central European countries where wine makers produce wine under less sunny conditions.

"I think it would be useful to start the discussion on how can we help the very small producers," she said.

Despite the opposition, both the commission and Portuguese EU presidency aim to wrap up the wine reform package by the end of this year.

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