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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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In discussing the wine war, Parliamentarian Pier Luigi Bersani lamented that ‘we are now seeing the consequences of neglecting such an important sector as wine’113 within the Common Agricultural Policy. Despite the efforts of the Community at creating a policy, it seemed that to Bersani, the liberal nature of the policy was tantamount to neglect or possibly too that the years in the 1960s when the a wine policy was left on the backburner had sown the seeds of current distress. The importance of the wine sector within the CAP, however, was surely not financial, constituting at this time only 2% of the CAP budget (though from 1973 to 1975, the amount itself went up twelve-fold.114) It took up an inordinate and disproportionate amount of time relative to its financial size, given the discussions and special meetings called mainly for and sometimes solely for the CWP which suggests that some other aspect of it merited great attention and effort in the Community. It was the social importance of the CWP, and this social importance was linked in the minds of EU officials to the overall capacity of the CWP. The policy, faced with currency fluctuations, resulted in significant problems for France. The initial compromises displeased many farmers and Member States. Yet they rallied around this policy because they believed it was tied to the success of the entire CAP project. Lardinois repeatedly stressed that the dangers of the wine crisis ‘could rock the whole edifice of agricultural policy.’115 The Interventionist Turn: The Common Wine Policy’s Change in Direction, 1976 – 1980 Bulletin of the European Communities, No 4, 8th year. Luxembourg: Office for the Official Publications of the European Communities.

Niederbacher, Wine in the European Community, 41.

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

After the crisis faced by the Common Wine Policy, negotiators worked doggedly to change the CWP to better address the problems of the wine market and to prevent such an incident from happening again. The Commission and the Council finally admitted that the imbalances during this period ‘were indisputably caused by structural problems’.116 This propelled the first major review of the entire wine policy, and led to an agreement in March 1976, officially published as Regulation 1160/76 on May 17, 1976, between the major parties involved as to the resolution to the problems of the new CWP. Beginning September 1, 1976, the European Community would also have what was called a ‘garantie de bonne fin’ introduced for wine.

In the same year, Regulation 1162/76 was introduced which ended the ‘right to plant’ principle embodied in 816/70.117 An outright ban on all new planting was imposed until the end of 1978 and a new classification of varieties and strict permissions for their planting and replanting was introduced. Premiums were also introduced in this year to encourage farmers to grub-up vines either to abandon them temporarily for a six-year period or to replace the vines entirely with another crop.118 The Commission and Council finally came to realise that the difficulty with the Common Wine Policy rested at least in part on systemic overproduction and much of the new Regulation 1160/76 was designed to deal with these problems. But the economic environment certainly exacerbated the situation. Monetary Compensatory Amounts that were meant to protect against differences in currencies and the effect they would have on the prices of agricultural products were introduced for table wine in 1971. However, by the eve of the wine crisis, MCAs had failed to offset these fluctuations in the wine industry because of the Classification of Vine Varieties in the European Community and the Common Organisation of the Market in Wine.

L135, Council Regulation (EEC) No 1162/76 of 17 May 1976 on measures designed to adjust wine-growing potential to market requirements.

L135, Council Regulation (EEC) No 1163/76 of 17 May 1976 on the granting of a conversion premium in the wine sector.

lack of an effective minimum price for wines; this was a problem almost uniquely affecting the wine market, for, while MCAs might not have operated very well in all other markets, the pricing system for the other CAP commodities had minimum pricing and automatic interventions.119 The substantial revisions made to the common wine policy bore these two major problems in mind.

The new policy of 1976 saw a number of changes, the centrepiece of which was the introduction of a ‘garantie de bonne fin’ or a performance guarantee. The measure, touted as being the principal innovation of the revised wine policy120, gave viticulteurs who respected the Community’s disciplinary measures as regarding preventative distillations, long- and short-term storage contracts, and so on, the guarantee that at the end of the year’s campaign, they would receive at least the trigger price for their wine. For wines that had been under long-term contract during the course of the year’s wine campaign, three types of measures were now available if quoted market prices were not satisfactory (meaning the wine would not be released onto the market). First, the extension of the storage contracts could be sought if the prospect of improvement during the weeks after the end of the official campaign made this a good option (as the Commission decided was the case in 1977); second, distillation measures were available for which qualifying wines were then paid what was considered a ‘strong price’ (anything equivalent to or greater than the trigger price); and third, the Community offered some help with wine export, including the possibility of refunds for costs incurred.

A notable, but quieter change, was the nomenclature the Commission began to adopt for reducing the production of poorer quality wine in the Community – in a Commission memo INRA-ENSA-Montpellier, 1987.

'Le Marché Européen du Vin.' Memo from the European Commission. February 1978. BAC 48/1984.1132, HAEC.

giving a comprehensive overview of the legal revisions, under the heading ‘Qualité de vin’121 were the major measures to combat overproduction. One such measure was a 0.5% increase in the blanket minimum alcohol percentage any wine to be circulated in the European Community could have, now to be set at 9% alcohol by volume. Wine containing less than this percentage was strictly forbidden from entering the market. This was a measure obviously only aimed at table wines, for no quality wines had alcohol percentages nearly so low (with the near exception of some German white wines before chaptalisation).

The next measure was the cessation of planting rights – all new planting was suspended until at least the end of 1978 (except for quality wines), and new classifications were drawn up for vine varieties. There were three major categories – varietals that were recommended, varietals that were authorised, and finally, varietals that were temporarily authorised but in the long-term were to be eliminated. These varietals, along with several wine-growing areas, were to be eliminated either before 1979, for those varieties obtained from direct producer hybrids, and before 1983, for most other varieties. Varieties that were in the third and least favourable category were given 15 years from 1976 to be eliminated.122 Not only was the phrase ‘quality of wine’ euphemistically and enthusiastically adopted as a way to headline measures that were in fact about cutting down the amount of table wine, but the general policy change was built around the concept of moving in the ‘direction of quality.’ For instance, before coming to the point about the ‘interdiction de plantations’, a Commission memo explained that the Nine were undertaken measures to ‘d’agir avec vigueur sur le potentiel de production.’123 Ibid.

'Regulation (EEC) No 1160/76 of 17 May 1976 amending Regulation (EEC) No 816/70,' in L135/1, Official Journal of the European Communities, 1976.

'Le Marché Européen du Vin.' Memo from the European Commission. February 1978. BAC 48/1984.1132, HAEC.

The Commission’s attitude to the CWP had changed considerably since the early 1970s, when they had believed that the overproduction of wine was temporary, a concern but not a particularly seriously or alarming one, and that economic instability was a major cause, which would be ironed out in other ways or would eventually pass. But it was not these larger ancillary issues that were the problem – it was the wine industry itself that was the problem, abetted unfortunately by the inefficient as well as expensive measures of the CWP. The Commission was now very concerned about the breadth and scope of the problems in the

wine policy, and the potential social and cultural issues that were tightly connected to them:

La Commission ne cache pas son inquiétude face à l’évolution prévisible de la production de vins dans la CEE, à savoir la tendance persistante au déplacement de la vigne des collines vers les plaines et la recherche de rendements élevés que permettent le techniques modernes…un état de crise endémique risque de persister dans le secteur viticole. Cette évolution est d’autant plus inquiétante qu’elle se développe dans un contexte social et économique défavorable. La viticulture est une culture qui absorbe, particulièrement dans un milieu traditionnel, une main d’œuvre abondante. Le remplacement de la vigne par d’autres cultures nécessitant moins de main d’œuvre, pourrait avoir des conséquences très graves pour l’emploi et déplacer le problème de l’équilibre des marchés vers d’autres secteurs. Les alternatives économiques sont peur ou pas existantes. Le problèmes de la viticulteur ne peut donc trouver sa solution que dans un cadre qui dépasse la simple organisation du marché du vin.124 The Commission realised that these social and cultural issues would need to be unravelled and addressed of their own accord if a common wine policy were to be functionally useful. This was outside the scope of the originally conceived CWP, which was meant predominantly to smooth wine’s entry into a unified European market. These issues were particularly pressing in light of the prospective new Mediterranean member states Spain, Portugal, and Greece – all three of which were wine producing. Spain, a very large wine producer indeed who had applied for membership in 1977, was unsurprisingly by far the most concerning to the French and Italian wine growers.


The French government was very wary of Spain’s entry, not least because of pressure from the country’s leading agricultural lobby group Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d'Expoitants d'Agricoles (FNSEA), who insisted that because of Spain’s competing production of wine, fruits and vegetables, and olive oil, the country ‘ne peut être accueillie dans la CEE’.125 Opposition was widespread across agricultural groups in France. The 1983 riots incited by vignerons in the south-west of France against Spanish entry, wherein trucks and cars were overturned, led then Minister of Agriculture Michel Rocard to compare the situation to the Jacquerie, a particularly bloody peasant revolt in late medieval France. 126

–  –  –

It was at this most difficult juncture that the European Community’s agenda first seriously took into consideration the plight and concerns of the producers, initially through the fact that they hoped that encouraging the formation of ‘groupements de producteurs’ or producer groups would involve farmers themselves in improving the quality of wine production, and thus helping to support the Commission’s new policy direction of quality in wine. They also hoped that favouring organisations of producers in the distribution of aid would encourage them to group together locally, thus allowing the Commission to make demands of the group (such as asking them for target production levels or encouraging them to have their members grow recommended varietals and to police them in general).

Further to that, the Council and Commission began considering a way to group together all table wine producers in the Community. The Group de travail ‘vins’ was charged to discuss, at their meeting on February 22, 1978, the creation of a European interprofessional Matthieu Trouvé, L'Espagne et l'Europe: de la dictature de Franco à l'Union européenne (Brussels: Peter Lang, 2008), 419.


organisation for table wine on February 24, 1978, after the Commission and Council’s proposals on February 13, 1978 both for additional minor changes to 816/70 and for a potential interprofessional organisation. This organisation would, ‘disposant d’une structure communautaire, national et régionale, réunirait les producteurs, les commerçants et les transformateurs de vin de table. Elle devrait être l’interlocuteur unique entre les professions et les instances communautaires, et serait appelée à participer à la préparation de certaines décisions à prendre dans le cadre de la politique viti-vinicole commune.’127 This group would be called on to advise the Brussels institutions and give their opinions on matters previously the Commission and Council decided on rather without earnest consultation with producers and merchants at least, with the exception of their small, selective, and technically-oriented expert groups like the Groupe de travail ‘Vins’, the section of the Comité Spécial Agriculture (CSA) dealing with wine which gave technical advice to both the CSA and directly to the Council. The Groupe de travail ‘Vin’ was a very small group composed of technical specialists picked by their national governments and was meant to be a politically-neutral advisory group – in contrast, this interprofessional group was meant to be a much larger, mostly self-organising group that was representative of producers from across the Community. This group’s responsibilities – and indeed, they could be seen as privileges – included participation in discussions on the delimitation of wine-growing zones, the policy of increasing quality of table wines, and intervention measures in the case of another crisis (interest groups were not consulted in the 1975 wine crisis).

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