AGRICULTURE : ENRICHMENT AT THE HEART OF DEBATE ON WINE REFORM.
The reform of the common market organisation (CMO) for wine will be the focus of the work of the EU agriculture ministers when they meet on 22 October in Luxembourg. Their talks will concentrate on the grubbing-up of 200,000 hectares and the use of direct aid in the wine sector. The controversial matter of enrichment (the addition of sugar, also known as chaptalisation) is also expected to be discussed. Around 20 member states continue to oppose the European Commission's proposed ban on using sugar to enrich wine.
The Portuguese EU Presidency and the European Commission intend to draw up an initial overall compromise proposal on reform of the CMO in time for the November Agriculture Council.
The question of enrichment was reviewed yet again on 15 October by the member state agriculture experts, meeting in Brussels. France, whose view on chaptalisation is less black-and-white than that of other member states, suggests that different enrichment processes should be combined in the future. The Commission is considering lending its support to that compromise solution. At this stage, the Commission has said it is prepared to allow a derogation from the ban on chaptalisation for small producers (eg those with under one hectare or with production of less than 100 hl), provided the use of sugar for enrichment is mentioned on the label. That concession does not seem to satisfy a majority of member states, however. Only Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta want to see sugar replaced by grape must. They maintain that the use of sugar, which artificially increases yield, is used solely for economic reasons. The Commission shares that view, noting that the ongoing rise in the alcohol content of wine due to the addition of sugar is a trend that runs counter to a strong health policy and must consequently be discouraged. In addition, the Commission points out that, in Germany and Austria for example, quality wines are produced without the addition of sugar.
On the grubbing-up of vines, the EU agriculture ministers will discuss a suggestion by the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee that the process should take place over three years, rather than five. This would enable growers who wish to cease production to do so more quickly.
A majority of member states will probably confirm their opposition to the transfer of funds from the first pillar (market support) to the second (rural development) proposed by Brussels. They point out that, to achieve the aims of the reform, the funds must continue to come under the first pillar in the form of national allocations. Certain wine-producing member states also have reservations over the weighting criteria used for the national allocations (25% for surface area, 25% for production and 50% for expenditure and the available menu', such as promotion in non-EU countries, restructuring, green harvesting, insurance and risk funds).