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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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Lott wrote that in dealing privately with the Italian Permanent Representation, this information was confirmed to him, and that the Representation also minimised the scope of Ibid.


what was happening: the Italian government had only applied to the Commission on this issue.66 Furthermore, Lott was certain that the prospect of actual referral to the Court of Justice, the principal fear of the French government, was ‘plus lontaine.’67 It is this small but important exchange between the French and Italian Permanent Representatives that provides insight into the Italian government’s motives. The blockade by the French was illegal and required the Italians to react swiftly. But they were restrained and had to consider their steps carefully. They chose not to favour faster and potentially more punitive measures to solve the problem by, for example, dealing one-on-one with France, during which time they could threaten to close their markets to the many French industrial products usually finding their home there. Eleven boats of wine would have represented a significant amount of income for Italian wine producers, of whom the Italians were quick to say that many were poor and were finally finding their stride, with improved production methods. But it was not necessarily enough to justify the much wider Franco-Italian trade relationship. Instead, the Italians used a multilaterally-pressuring position. This way they not only demonstrated Community-mindedness, but they won the moral and political high ground; the French blockade was clearly untenable and the Commission did not accept the weak French bluster that the local authorities were correct in keeping the peace in the situation and the implication that this was not a national issue. The Director-General of Economic Affairs at the Commission Cesidio Guazzaroni made it clear to Puaux that ‘the Telegram 1127-29 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.


responsibility of the French was implicit once they omitted acting or failed to act. Measures should have been taken by them to allow the unloading of the wine.’68 More importantly, this Italian choice of action under Article 170 meant the delay of potential legal procedures. In this situation, invoking Article 30 of the Treaty of Rome would have made more sense, as it was related directly to the freedom of movement within the internal Community market. Invoking Article 170 first required the Commission to examine the request of the complainant Member State, and then to provide an opinion in up to three months’ time, after having collected observations from both parties. The threat of the referral to the Court of Justice was a necessary bluff on the part of the Italians. The Italians did not want to take the French to the Court, but it was necessary for them to make certain they stood their ground publically during the clumsy French move to respond to the ever-growing cries from the viticulteurs. This opinion seems to have been shared by the DG Economic Affairs, himself Italian: Guazzaroni’s counsel to Puaux was that the ‘the referral to the Court of Justice is explained by the necessity of the Italian government, when placed in front of a dangerous political situation, to ‘do something.’’69 That is to say, they did not have to do something severe or rash, but some fitting action had to be taken. He added that ‘this Article is meant for the Commission, as it has before, to exercise its good offices between Member States’,70 which did not sound threatening. However, having the case in the Court would not only be lengthy and time-consuming, but it would most importantly expose the Common Wine Policy to the close scrutiny and criticisms of not only the court but those observing the court case. Both Italians and French had a strong incentive to avoid this.

Telegram 856/859, very urgent, from François Puaux to Delfra-Bruxelles and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

March 29, 1975. Direction Europe, 38/2/3, Questions Internationales Européennes, Questions économiques, Marché commun questions agricoles, AD.



The ‘Focus of Attention’ on the Continuing Wine Crisis The wine sector became the ‘focus of attention’71 in April 1975. Commissioner for Agriculture, the Dutchman Pierre Lardinois, claimed that the French blockade was ‘such a serious breach of the Treaty of Rome, such as had rarely occurred in the past.’72 In response to an urgent request presented by a parliamentary group composed mainly of European Progressive Democrats and Communist Party Members, the European Parliament held a debate on April 10 dedicated to the difficulties being experienced by the wine market. The debate was introduced by Lardinois, who explained that the Commission had initiated the proceedings relating to Article 16973 of the Treaty, as it was of the opinion that the French government had indeed violated the Treaty with the blockade.74 The Commission had proposed a round of distillation at its April 8 meeting in response to the closing of French borders to Italian table wine, a step which it believed would temporarily ease the market, and planned to submit to the Council a report relating to the substantial modification of the wine regulations to prevent such an occurrence from happening in the future. The Commission made reference to the potential need to modify the wine policy. The focus, however, was still on distillation, which was mentioned as the first measure. Structural measures, like regulations on planting and replanting, were mentioned only as a possibility. 75 This is because distillation, while very expensive, would have an immediate effect on the amount of wine in circulation, whereas limits on planting or grubbing up of vines would take much longer to have an effect.

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


Article 169 is similar to Article 170. Article 170 stipulates that a Member State who considers another Member State not to have fulfilled a duty may have recourse in bringing the matter to the Commission and to the European Court of Justice. Article 169 stipulates that the Commission itself may provide an opinion and take the Member State to the ECJ, if it considers a Member State to not have fulfilled a duty.

No. 189, Sittings of April 7-11, 1975, Debates of the European Parliament. and Conseil des ministres, le 18 avril 1975, 484/75 (ASS 256), Brussels: Archives de Conseil de l'Union européenne.

Procès-verbaux 334, séance du 8 avril 1975. BAC 259.80, HAEC.

The Parliament held different and rather agitated views on the matter. The resultant debate in the Parliament heavily criticised the shortcomings of the wine regulations and argued that the Council’s efforts were not enough as the difficulties experienced by the market resulted from the ‘structural character’ of the CWP.76 Parliamentarians complained that the Community, through the Common Agricultural Policy, had not properly given the attention to Mediterranean products – like wine, olive oil, and durum wheat – that it devoted to other major agricultural crops. The safety of harvest crops and the security of revenue were not nearly as robust as that for grain or beef producers, they charged; this was a justifiable line to take as the vagaries of the weather heavily affected vine output, and guaranteed intervention for the northern produce markets helped maintain a steadier income from year to year for farmers. They also complained about the heavy taxes placed on wine which they claimed reduced opportunities for ‘the consumption and flow that the viticulteurs were entitled to expected from the creation of a market encompassing a space as large as the Community.’77 During the debate, Mario Vetrone, an Italian Christian Democrat, raised the immediate issue of the wine blockade by telling the French government that it was incumbent on them to ‘reconsider certain decisions [they had taken] in order to calm the situation and to avoid retaliatory measures sought by Italy.’ He also mentioned that ‘difficulties were predictable for a long time but parties were too slow in countering them’ by which he was referring to the overproduction of the previous two years. In response to this, Cointat again set out the French line that this action was not to be blamed on the French national government or its Brussels representatives, and attempted to avoid the brunt of the responsibility; he claimed that this No. 189, Sittings of April 7-11, 1975, Debates of the European Parliament. and Conseil des ministres, le 18 avril 1975, 484/75 (ASS 256), Brussels: Archives de Conseil de l'Union européenne.

No. 189, Sittings of April 7-11, 1975, Debates of the European Parliament.

‘conflict is much more from the local level than from the French government.’78 He justified the French position of fairly openly supporting the local authorities blockading the ships carrying the wine by claiming that in these exceptional and serious circumstances ‘as often is the case, one could not but seek short-term conservative measures’.79 But his most damning comments were saved for the entire European attempt at a common wine market: that it had come to French farmers having to defend themselves this way meant the ‘the wine regulation has been a total failure and constitutes at the same time an obstacle for European integration’.80 The French seemed to realise the problem was structural and unsustainable81 and it is likely the Italians knew this as well. Under the bridge of their tentative partnership, French and Italian interests were not convergent. While both the French and Italians shared an apprehension of further wine imports from other Mediterranean countries, feeling they would place further stress on the already fragile common wine market, the Italians preferred to keep the CWP as it was, blaming economic circumstances for the situation. So it was that Italian Members of European Parliament directed their comments towards the need to protect ‘people who are often amongst the poorest in the community’ and blamed the economic conditions, particularly ‘speculators and large capital flows’82 for the difficulties of the wine market. The Italians were more concerned about defending viticulteurs on the basis that they were often the poorest in the Community, and who were directly impacted by the French blockade. Certainly, this was the Italian defence of their liberal wine regulations – that only Ibid.



Telegram 2473/2484 from Étienne Burin des Roziers to Ministry of Foreign Affairs. July 21, 1974. Direction Europe, 38/2/3, Questions Internationales Européennes, Questions économiques, Marché commun questions agricoles, AD.

Conseil des ministres, le 18 avril 1975, 484/75 (ASS 256), Brussels: Archives de Conseil de l'Union européenne.

in the last decade had Italian viticulteurs had begun to make more efficient and profitable wines, and that Italian wine growers were still below the average standard of living in the Community amongst their profession, particularly as compared to their counterparts in France.83 The French, instead, wanted a system which reflected their quantitative and qualitative restrictions on planting, and which incorporated measures to promote the grubbing up of poor quality vines.84 This was not something they wished to have to introduce themselves, but it was clearly necessary to address their main concerns, which was curbing overproduction in Languedoc-Roussillon while having a policy which allowed expansion for its profitable, export-driven vineyards. In pushing for this at the EEC level, the French government would be able to deflect primary responsibility from itself for having introduced what was bound to be a highly unpopular policy with French viticulteurs in the Languedoc-Roussillon. This was most clear when the French claimed that it was the Community that ought to, in applying the policy, take all viticulteurs together as one group and then, punish those that could not meet ‘les besoins du marché,’85 for it was not overproduction in general that was the issue to the French – it was the overproduction of the ‘wrong’ kind of wine.

The divergence between the French and Italians became clearer over the next several months of negotiations over the matter. Lardinois closed the EP debate by reiterating the conviction with which the Commission would address the issues; the Commission intended to submit to the Council a solution by April 15 which aimed to meet the approval of all parties. Thereby, Niederbacher, Wine in the European Community, 33-34.

2965/X/70-E: The Background to the Common Organisation of the Market in Wine, 1970. European Commission. Luxembourg: Division for Agricultural Information in collaboration with Directorate-General for Agriculture.

'Memorandum relatif au secteur viti-vinicole.' Memorandom establishing French position on the Community's wine policy. Undated. Forwarded to Council Secretary General Christian Calmes by Emile Cazimajou, Deputy Permanent Representative for France. May 18, 1972, CM2/1972 860.1, CMA.

‘the free movement of goods would be re-established in the following days.’ This, unfortunately, did not happen; a solution was not found by the Commission, and the free movement of goods was not to be restored for months.

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