ECONOMY

No to vine uprooting

STRASBOURG (AFP) – The European Parliament yesterday denounced a proposal to uproot 400,000 hectares of vineyards to tackle a wine glut. EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told the parliamentary debate that the vineyard cull «would allow producers who have never been competitive and can’t respond to consumer demands to retire gracefully and to be compensated.» However the parliamentarians agreed that the proposed five-year program suggested by the EU’s European Council risks placing a great concentration of wine production in the hands of several big producers. In the agreed report, approved overwhelmingly by MEPs, Greek Socialist MEP Katerina Batzeli argues that a «massive and indiscriminate» uprooting of vines would attack the European vinicultural tradition, notably in the «most fragile» regions. Parliament asserted that «the issue of permanent abandonment of winegrowing must not be the centerpiece» of the sector’s reform. «It considers it essential that each member state and region be able to set a flexible upper limit» for closing vineyards in each region. Parliament also urged «incentives for alternative uses of alcohol and the by-products of vinification, via bioenergy policies that may make a valid contribution to combating production surpluses.» European wines have increasingly seen their market share eroded by competition from cheaper New World wines from countries and regions such as Australia, Chile, California and even China. France and Italy are among the biggest European and world producers, with some 45 million hectoliters produced annually each, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine. This is way ahead in production terms of other countries. The US output is less than half that of France and Australia’s production is barely 10 million hectoliters. But the issue is not production capacity, it is securing markets for the wine. The European Commission believes that deep reform of the sector is needed urgently. Without changes, the EU could face lakes of surplus wine akin to butter mountains and other areas of overproduction seen in the past. EU rules allow for crisis distillation in the case of «exceptional market disturbances due to major surpluses.»