The European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development has conceded that the continent is still some way from agreeing on attempts to reform the wine sector.

In a speech to the Agricultural Committee of the European Parliament today (12 September), Mariann Fischer Boel said that, while all sides are aware of the problems the sector faces, the Commission's communication earlier this year about possible reforms has not yet received total support.

"I have already visited a number of Member States including Italy, Portugal and Spain to listen to the views of stakeholders," Fischer Boel said. "I intend to visit France and other Member States in the future. All these discussions have helped to clarify the problem to the satisfaction of many but have not yet produced a clear consensus on the way forward."

"Contrary to the assessment of some," Fischer Boel continued, "I consider the communication positive and pro-active. The importance of the sector in the world and in the Community is emphasised, as is the superior quality of EU wines and their huge potential. It is necessary to identify the problem, the factors contributing to that situation and to advance ideas on potential sustainable remedies."

In the speech, Fischer Boel emphasised that around 400,000 hectares of European vineyards should be grubbed up, while the abolition of planting rights would not contradict this move. "To avoid that a grubbing-up premium would be paid in one year and the system of planting rights would be abolished the next, the grubbing-up premium would be significantly more attractive at the beginning of the period and less so at the end," she explained. "However, as is clear from the present process, final conclusions on these points have not yet been drawn and I would welcome your views."

Fischer Boel concluded by calling for the wine sector to suggest how to improve the provision of information and promotion of wine to reduce the gap between supply and demand. "Information and promotion campaigns are best organised and executed by the sector and the professionals engaged by the sector," she noted.

The Commission is expected to come back with legislative proposals either later this year or early next.