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Red alert in the pink city

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The very first European Wine Day (27 October) is being held in Toulouse – a city more known for its pink houses and aeronautical factories. However, beyond the rosy cheers, is the European wine sector starting to sour?

The city in the southwest of France has been designated European Wine Capital 2023 together with Portugal’s Douro Valley. This label has been awarded since 1993 by the Recevin network, which brings together nearly 800 European cities in 12 EU countries.

A well-deserved title for Toulouse, as the pink city has always been a wine hub – even before Romans invaded the area, which was then called Gaul. Today, the Occitanie region in which Toulouse is located can boast 28 geographical indications for wine, some of them world-famous, such as Gaillac.

The slogan of this year’s European Wine Day is ‘the soul of Europe’, a note European winemakers love to emphasise.

“Wine has an economic and societal aspect in Europe, but it also has a cultural aspect. Our civilisation was built around wine, it’s our common denominator,” the President of the Vignerons coopérateurs de France told Euractiv in an interview.

Still, the sector is not doing so well and a red alarm will resonate in the pink city during the three round-table discussions that will take place throughout the day, as they focus on current issues that are shaking up the European wine sector: the agronomic transition, the place of wine in society, and trends in wine consumption.

One of the main problems is the excess in production. For the third year in a row, the European Commission has given the go-ahead for a crisis distillation campaign to regulate volumes – and, therefore, the market.

This form of market measure is explicitly devoted to enabling member states to deal with excess amounts of wine on the market and consequently avoiding producer price slumps due to the large harvest from previous years.

In the French city of Bordeaux, 300 million litres of wine can be processed until October 2024 but some of these nectars will have the honour of ending up in… pharmacies, as a component of hydroalcoholic gel for hand sanitising.

According to farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca, the 2023 harvest has fallen slightly – by 5% over a five-year average – due to extreme weather events such as rain and heatwaves.

However, production is still too high, given the continuing collapse in demand. By 2022, demand will have fallen by 7% in Italy, 10% in Spain, 15% in France, 22% in Germany and 34% in Portugal.

This phenomenon is exacerbated by inflation, which is set to continue this year.

At the same time, EU wine exports fell by 8.5% between 2022 and 2023 (January to April), causing stocks to overflow.

Admittedly, France is still holding its own thanks to its top-of-the-range wines: exports of Bordeaux Grands Crus, Cognac and Burgundy have even risen by 10% in 2022.

Emphasising the cultural dimension is perhaps a way of responding to the Commission, which recently aroused the ire of Europe’s wine industry by describing winegrowing as a “non-essential” sector for Europe.

This statement was included in an impact study on the review of the EU pesticide rules, showing a 27% drop in wine production in Europe. The FNSEA, France’s leading winegrowing union, described this as an “unacceptable” threat to winegrowing.

The stakes are high for Europe, which remains both the world’s leading producer (64%) and consumer (48%). But the wines of what was formerly known as the New World (United States, Argentina, Chile, etc.) are dangerously getting in the way.

In addition to this the environmental challenges and the fact that wine consumption could fall by a further 25% by 2034.

An overall picture not particularly rosy – and not even rosé – that will probably be discussed next year, when the city of Mostar, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, will take up the mantle as European Wine Capital succeeding the pink city.

By Hugo Struna

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News of the week

Pesticide reform lives another day 

The troubled process of revising the EU’s pesticide rules marked another milestone with the adoption by the European Parliament’s environment committee of the draft text proposed by the Green rapporteur on the file, the Austrian MEP Sarah Wiener. All the main additions put forward by lawmakers we reported on ahead of the vote were embedded in the approved text, which now is expected to get the final go-ahead by the whole plenary in November.

Even if MEPs manage to approve a negotiation mandate in November, they will have to wait for the EU ministers to adopt theirs before starting the talks to agree on a common set of amendments to the Commission’s text.

A leaked Parliament agenda for 2024 obtained by Euractiv also confirmed early February next year as the “last week to reach a provisional agreement with the Council to publish files before Summer 2024”, meaning that the chances to get an agreement on such a complex file in just a few months are next to zero.

Geographical indications consolation prize

At least the Spanish rotating EU presidency could claim to have finalised one pending dossier, as agriculture minister Luis Planas struck a deal with Parliament’s rapporteur Paolo De Castro on the revision of the geographical indications (GIs) framework on Tuesday (24 October).

The reform – which was originally labelled as an evolution, rather than a revolution by the Commission itself – mostly aims to harmonise the several systems currently in force for GIs merging all of them into just one single set of rules. Among the main new features, there are the requirement to indicate GIs on ingredients, as well as an increase in the protection for these products on the internet. Sustainable practices will also be recognised in a voluntary manner while producers will receive more tools to enforce the protection.

Bluetongue blues

After struggles with avian influenza and African Swine Flu (ASF), several EU countries now find themselves with yet another livestock disease outbreak on their hands: bluetongue disease.

Over the past months, the Netherlands have recorded more than 2,600 cases of the disease, which is transmitted by midges and primarily affects sheep and cattle, but also goats, llamas and alpacas. In recent weeks, first individual cases were also reported in bordering regions of Germany and Belgium.

Fearing negative impacts on livestock exports, the three countries’ agriculture ministers have called on pharmaceutical companies to swiftly develop a suitable vaccine.

The current bluetongue outbreak is the first in the region since 2009, and while vaccines exist for certain variants, none are available yet for serotype 3 – the one seen in the animals infected now.

Kiwi trade deal

The European Parliament’s international trade committee voted in favour of the trade deal the EU signed with New Zealand earlier this year.

The committee’s approval came with a wide majority, and the Greens’ trade spokeswoman, Anna Cavazzini, hailed the agreement as a “turning point in European trade policy” due to its chapter on sustainability.

On the other hand, small farmers’ association Confederation Paysanne said on X they were “stunned by so much inconsistency,” adding that free trade leads to “de-localisation”.

CAP corner

More flexibility to deal with crises?

Amid increasingly frequent extreme weather events and the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine, EU countries’ agri sector have been dealing with a series of disturbances, to which the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) has to react.

Currently, the agricultural reserve within the CAP – a yearly fund set aside to deal with market crises – is already used up for 2023, and EU countries have increasingly questioned if it is the right tool to deal with crises caused by climate change.

At this week’s agri ministers’ meeting, several countries now called to come up with new tools for dealing with crises within the CAP: The Slovenian and Croatian delegation, with support from six other countries, called for the establishment of an “efficient, flexible, and simple ‘ad hoc’ financial support mechanism in case of crisis.”

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

POLAND

Agriculture may divide Poland’s future pro-EU coalition. The three opposition parties likely to unseat Poland’s current ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party could be disrupted by a list of demands from farmers’ unions, known as the ‘Agricultural Twelve’. Read the full story.

GERMANY

Bavarian court to rule on “misleading” beer labels. A regional court in Munich is set to rule on whether a beer brand can be called Wunderbräu (“wonder brew”) despite the fact that the company in question does itself brew the beer. The Centre for Protection against Unfair Competition had filed the legal action, arguing the label was misleading. A decision by the court is expected in early December. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

FRANCE

Paris calls for inclusion of agri losses in waste directive. French agriculture minister Marc Fesneau called for the whole value chain, including agricultural losses, to be included in the EU’s efforts to fight food waste during this week’s EU agriculture ministers’ meeting. EURACTIV France has more.

AUSTRIA

Agri budget upped amid rising costs. The Austrian government has decided to allocate €130 million more to the agriculture budget in 2024 compared to 2023. The extra budget “is more necessary than ever in view of inflation and the increasingly noticeable consequences of climate change,” the country’s agriculture minister Norbert Totschnig said in a statement on Saturday. Farmers’ representatives hailed the step as an “absolutely needed” adjustment to rising costs in the sector. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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