The Losh Cause – EC looks to get tough on over-production
Chris Losh welcomes the EU Agriculture Commissioner's recent remarks on wine over-production and distillation subsidies, but fears Mariann Fischer Boel may have her work cut out trying to reform a system which has been going so wrong for so long.
It's unusual to flick open e-news pages and find members of the EU talking hard common sense. But that's what happened this week. The EU Commissioner for agriculture has, it seems, got tired of the French and Italians overproducing and then dangling their hands for a bail-out from Brussels, and is prepared to get tough.
"Crisis distillation is becoming a depressingly regular feature of our common market organisation," she warned, which in Eurospeak is the equivalent of a volley of expletive-filled Anglo-Saxon.
The juxtaposition of the words 'crisis' and 'regular' is the key. Ms Fischer Boel has clearly cottoned on to the fact that a system that was set up to help producers cope with freak conditions is now being built into an economic survival kit.
By its definition, a crisis cannot be regular; the constant requests for money from producers across Europe, but particularly in France, Italy and Spain, are due not to pernicious short-term economic factors, but an inability or an unwillingness to grasp new market realities and take brave decisions to address them.
Bailing out producers who make wine that nobody wants year after year is the most illogical of activities, not least because it fails so utterly to provide any meaningful alternative. You can chop up all the furniture in your house to feed a fire to keep warm, but sooner or later you need to face up to the fact that your home has no roof and, in addition, you've nowhere left to sit.
Such is the ludicrous state of affairs in the EU, and it might have continued indefinitely had not the French got self-defeatingly greedy.
Frau Fischer Boel's remarks this week were spurred by the recent requests from France and Italy for increases in their distillation subsidies, from 2.6m to 3.1m hls in the case of Italy, and a whopping 3m to 4m hls for France.
Since they are more or less unaccountable and spend vast sums of money donated by people who don't elect them, commissioners are understandably slow to anger, but this time Frau Fischer Boel has clearly had enough.
"While (crisis distillation) offers temporary assistance to producers, it does not deal with the core of the problem - that Europe is producing too much wine for which there is no market. That is why a deep-rooted reform of the sector is urgently needed."
Well, amen to that. But she could have her work cut out. Last year, International Wine and Spirit Record forecast that while France and Italy's wine production was, belatedly, forecast to decrease, that of Spain was predicted to rise by 20% from 1999 to 2008.
Spain's distillation request, for 2006, incidentally, is still under consideration.
One country that makes few demands for crisis distillation is Germany. This once mighty producer is a shadow of its former self; growers have abandoned vineyards in their droves and it looks like it will take more than the World Cup to kick-start interest among the cognoscenti, let alone the general public.
Just two days before five of the country's most dynamic young producers were due to present their wines to the UK's Circle of Wine Writers, only 15 tickets had been sold…
Chris Losh welcomes the EU Agriculture Commissioner’s recent remarks on wine over-production and distillation subsidies, but fears Mariann Fischer Boel may have her work cut out trying to reform a sys...
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