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«The London School of Economics and Political Science Wine In Their Veins: France and the European Community’s Common Wine Policy, 1967-1980 Maria ...»

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their accessions. Though wine intake per capita was generally on the increase in the UK at the time, for example, the potential for this market to take in wine from France and Italy was limited given the high taxes that the United Kingdom placed on its wines, which were contrary to EEC regulations and for which they were asked repeatedly to conform to EEC standards.42 One explanation for the change in consumption patterns, particularly this decrease in France, is sociological shifts. The 1970s witnessed the first signs of a massive transformation in the French diet as a result of result of rapid modernisation and a rural exodus due to increased prosperity.43 Wine, traditionally consumed in large quantities at family meals, had its centrality challenged by the growing popularity of beer, soft drinks, hard liquor, and bottled water.44 It was around this time that the conception of what wine was began to change. Wine began to be viewed as a bourgeois symbol and became increasingly the focus of intellectual obsession; ‘wine snobbery’ was on the increase, with wine becoming less a popular workingclass drink and more the object of a kind of specialised study, in which consumption was tempered by intellectual appreciation and moderation of intake.45 In this atmosphere, general wine consumption, and particularly that of table wine, went down. During this same time period, the state intensified advertisement campaigns about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption; there is some evidence that this lowered consumption levels.46 David E. Smith, Hans Stubbe Solgaard, and Suzanne C. Beckmann, 'Changes and trends in alcohol consumption patterns in Europe,' Journal of Consumer Studies and Home Economics 23, no. 4 (December 1999).

Demossier, Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion, 45.

Smith, Solgaard, and Beckmann, 'Changes and trends in alcohol consumption patterns in Europe,' 252.

Demossier, Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion, 45-65.

Ibid., 93. and Smith, Solgaard, and Beckmann, 'Changes and trends in alcohol consumption patterns in Europe,' 251.

One early attempt to deal with the problem of the high levels of wine production in France was introduced by then Minister of Agriculture Jacques Chirac in 1973. The Plan Chirac, as it was called, targeted the Midi vineyards producing table wine. It was aimed at having producers groups in the area encourage their adherents to eliminate vineyards planted with certain varietals and modifying the others to encourage higher quality and lower yield. The plan ran into two problems – first, the plan ‘allait connaître de sérieuses difficultés d’application du fait de la persistance du mécontentement des producteurs’47 and second, the plan was given barely time to have an effect,48 due to the outbreak of the wine war of 1975.

Interestingly enough, the Plan Chirac still made an impact, for several of its points and certainly its direction was a model for French negotiators in 1976, during negotiations that was to create a more restrictive CWP.49 The French and the Italians initially had a mutually helpful partnership when it came to issues of the wine market, which emerged as a result of their own high production levels and the importance of wine to their economies and rural way of life. They found themselves defending the CWP’s continued existence and progress, though not always agreeing, given their different predilections with the French system more interventionist and restrictive than the more open Italian system. As the wine market expenditures increased very significantly each year from 1973 to 1975,50 the major benefactors continued to be Italy and France, who had both relinquished some of the national financial and administrative burden. Their impetus was to keep the market and to maximise the income for their farmers, in spite of German concerns about its increasing budget.

P. Campagne, 'Les politiques de prix et de subvention en Languedoc-Roussillon: l'exemple de la politique viticole.,' in Prix et subventions: effets sur les agricultures familiales méditerranéennes ed. N. Akesbi and N.

Maraveyas (Montpellier: CIHEAM, 1997), 195.

William K. Crowley, 'Changes in the French Winescape,' Geographical Review 83, no. 3 (1993): 253.


Niederbacher, Wine in the European Community, 41.

When the Italians complained in the Commission about the general lack of wine knowledge within Community negotiations on wine, which led to increasing referrals to the Special Committee on Agriculture (CSA) and eventually the creation and use of the Working Party on Wine, in the French they found a knowledgeable ally with similar interests. They often found themselves on the same side of the table. For example, in September 1973, the French and Italian delegations pushed on with detailed recommendations for the aid of the processing of grape must into grape juice or into concentrated must.51 But instead of responding to the technical suggestions by their enthusiastic counterparts, the Belgian, German, and Dutch delegations expressed a wider reluctance: they were not simply opposed to the measures proposed in this instance, but all measures which would ‘gradually strengthen the intervention system applicable for wine.’52 In fact they wanted an ‘overall examination of all the machinery of Regulation (EEC) No 816/70’53 to prevent its increasing interventionism.

As well, the calls for preventative distillation were made in strong unison by the French and Italians.54 But there was some disagreement over the treatment of Italian wines at the French border as early as 1972. The Italians early on were displeased about the treatment of their wines at the French border. In June 1972, the Italian Minister for Infrastructure Lorenzo Natali complained about the ‘abusive customs checks’ that Italian wines were subjected to. These customs checks were the result of early fears regarding the quantity of Italian wine entering the French market, as Italian market efficiency in this area increased. The French sideS/1006/73 (CSA 148)', Report by the Working Party on Wine to the Special Committee on Agriculture.

September 11, 1973. CM2 1973/955, CMA.



'Compte-rendu du Conseil des communautes Européennes des 24 et 25 september 1973 - Agriculture',

Secrétaire Général du Comité Interministériel, September 25, 1973. Affaires économiques et financières:

Coopération économique, 714 (1967-1975). AD.

stepped this issue by stating that these were a precautionary quality-control check, and were not intended to be discriminatory. Michel Cointat, the French Agricultural Minister, in the last few days of his tenure, gave Natali the empty assurance this would be eased.55 The Outbreak of the Wine Crisis: The Blockade at Sète and Franco–Italian Relations After the upheavals with the abnormally large harvest in 1973, in November 1974, the Council of the Agricultural Ministers faced yet another bumper crop. The Council decided to allow seven departéments in France to carry out special emergency distillation of surplus wine. But despite this, sizeable extra stocks still remained at the beginning of the 1975, and the continued depreciation of the lira resulted in the Italians seizing the moment to capitalise on their competitive pricing. Almost 200 million litres of table wine was imported into France in the two months of January and February 1975 alone; this was a very sharp and sudden increase, given that the import of wine from Italy for the entire 1974 year was approximately 240 million litres. In February and March, wine prices in France were slightly above the intervention price, while the Italian prices remained below it.56 This resulted in much more advantageous Italian market prices, resulting in a sudden spike in French imports of Italian table wine. The buyers were French wholesalers hoping to making a bigger profit from the lower prices of the Italian wine, which was predominantly used in blends. Previously, Algerian wine had filled this role – so much so that in the Languedoc in the 1950s, signs imploring ‘Stop the flood of Algerian wine’ could be found everywhere.57 Telegram 1644-56 from Delfra-Bruxelles to Ministry of Foreign Affairs. June 1, 1972. Direction Europe, 38/2/3, Questions Internationales Européennes, Questions économiques, Marché commun questions agricoles, AD.

Bulletin of the European Communities, No 4, 8th year. Luxembourg: Office for the Official Publications of the European Communities.

Loubère, The Wine Revolution in France, 134.

However, in the late 1960s, the government of newly liberated Algeria, prompted by religious considerations about the potential impropriety of a Muslim country being so dependent on foreign exports of wine, encouraged winegrowers to replace their vines with cereals.58 This the Algerian winegrowers took up enthusiastically (hardly any of the wine produced in Algeria had been consumed domestically, so any ‘loss’ was largely of an economic nature, and could be abetted with successful conversion and government support), and in response négociants-éléveurs – these merchants, sometimes also called merchant-blenders – quickly changed over to suppliers in southern Italy.59 Through March, these imports increased still further and despite further distillations authorised by the Council, the situation did not improve. Furious farmers, facing very poor sales of table wines as a result of the cheap Italian imports, together with local officials, succeeded in blocking eleven ships carrying Italian wines to French purchasers. Violent demonstrations commenced in the Midi, collectively the largest and one of the most important wine-growing regions in the Community.60 Upon arrival at Sète, one of the region’s main ports, the ships were not permitted to unload their wares; they were to remain there for the next several months.61 The Italian government immediately threatened to take the French government to the Court of Justice under Article 170 of the Treaty of Rome, regarding the need for members to fulfill their duties and the enabling of one member state to bring another to the Court of Justice where an obligation of a member state is not fulfilled. In this case, the duty in question was the free circulation of wine in the Community as per 816/70, particularly Article 31 preventing quantitative restrictions or measures with Loubère et al., The Vine Remembers, 10.

Ibid., 134.

It is comprised of Aquitaine (which includes the Bordeaux wine-growing region), Midi-Pyrénées, ProvenceAlpes-Côte d’Azur, Corsica, Rhône-Alpes, and Languedoc-Roussillon.

Telegram 1130-1133 from Francis Lott to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. March 28, 1975. Direction Europe, Relations Exterieures, 38/2/3: Questions internationales européennes, questions économiques, Marché commun questions agricoles, AD.

equivalent effects. The Italian government reserved the right to detail the damages they had already been subjected to at the initial instance of the blockade; the Italians declared clearly that they held the French government responsible for this action.62 The French government did not yet think the Italians would necessarily have the support of the Commission in its attempt to take France to the ECJ. When the Italian government brought before the Commission the memorandum announcing their intention to appeal to the Court of Justice over this matter, as well as their reasons explaining why they were pursuing it, the French thought it would be very important to hear what they had to say. This could show the likelihood of the Commission opinion strongly supporting Italy or the Italians going to court with the absence of a Commission response. The fast-travelling knowledge that the Italians were taking the French to court came as ‘a certain surprise’63 to Paris; French Permanent Representative to the European Communities Luc de la Barre de Nanteuil noted, on the same day the Italians announced their intentions, that this would be the first time in French knowledge that this particular clause of non-fulfillment of obligations, Article 170, had been invoked.

The French ambassador to Italy, François Puaux, particularly noted this point as well. The initial French line on this issue was that the responsible authorities had taken measures regarding these Italian goods while in the course of ‘controlling the situation in the Midi and the behaviour of viticulteurs’ and furthermore that ‘[the public authorities] acted to best fulfill their responsibilities and duties which include the maintenance of order and public peace, which are the same conditions necessary for the application of any economic regulation, Ibid.

Telegram 242/45 from Luc de la Barre de Nanteuil to AmbaFrance Rome. March 28, 1975. Direction Europe, 38/2/3, Questions Internationales Européennes, Questions économiques, Marché commun questions agricoles, AD.

including Community law.’64 This same sentiment was expressed the next day by Puaux, who shared in the surprise felt in Paris by the news of the referral to the Court of Justice.

Awkwardly, however, he claimed this surprise arose from the fact that the prevention of the unloading of Italian wines at Sète had not been due to the actions of French authorities. But Nanteuil’s telegram already makes it clear that the French authorities were involved in some degree.

However, Nanteuil emphasised the tenuous situation of the French situation if the court case advanced, particularly if the Italian case was advanced with the sympathy of the Commission.

Finding a mutually satisfying solution was not just necessary to main the ‘ties of cooperation and friendship’ existing between the two parties, but because maintaining a spirit of reciprocal trust enabled the genuine vested interests of both countries to be best served. Both countries knew that it was incumbent upon them as principal wine producers in the Community to work towards the continued survival of the common wine policy.65 Only working together could they hope to bring equilibrium to the fluctuating wine market, which was seen as essential for the common market as a whole.

Counsellor to the French Permanent Representation to the Community Francis Lott’s report to the French Foreign Ministry was rather calmer. According to the Cabinet of the President of the Commission, the Italian authorities had actually said they did not expect an immediate reaction from Commission staff on their request, but they did state that they thought the procedure regarding Article 31 under question of violation ought to begin on April 2, 1975.

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