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Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural
Plenary Session, European Parliament
President, Honourable Members
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to make a few comments about the reform of our wine sector.
I would like to offer my particular thanks to the rapporteur, Giuseppe Castiglione, for his remarkably hard work in bringing the draft opinion together.
The Parliament has made a valuable contribution to a debate which has at times been very emotionally charged. And in a number of areas, I'm ready to follow your suggestions, at least to some extent.
For example, with regard to a new grubbing-up scheme: I can see advantages in running this for three years rather than five, as you suggest.
Also, I've listened to your concerns about channelling some spending on the wine sector through the rural development budget. Let me recall that this funding would be ring-fenced, so it would still be spent on the wine regions. Nevertheless, I'm willing to propose a lower transfer of spending into rural development.
There are three big issues on which the Commission, the presidency and most Member States still have to find consensus in a final sprint to get a reform deal this month.
The first of these is the issue of national envelopes.
There was always going to be debate about exactly what measures should be allowed in these. I'm prepared to be a bit flexible here: I'm open to the idea of putting in measures related to innovation, and restructuring of wine cellars, for example. But we still need to keep a clear line of demarcation between the first-pillar instruments within the national envelope and the second-pillar instruments under rural development.
On the other hand, the national envelopes are no place for a permanent crisis distillation measure. Support for crisis distillation holds back competitiveness, and we must abolish it completely – not re-introduce it by the back door.
Also, there is no possibility of re-opening a general discussion about how large each Member State's national envelope should be. That debate is over.
The second big issue is chaptalisation.
There has been a huge row about this, and of course I haven't simply blocked my ears to it.
Nevertheless, the status quo does hold a genuine problem to be solved. Aid for enrichment with must cannot continue at the same level and in the same manner: it's an old-fashioned, ineffective, costly and trade-distorting support.
This being said, I understand the importance of keeping the balance between enrichment by sugar and must aid in order to arrive at a compromise supported by both southern and northern producers.
We're going to find a way through this. I have listened to the broad call for continuing to allow enrichment with sugar. But let's be clear. I am not inclined to accept the status quo, so any compromise would imply new conditions.
The third big issue is the end of the planting rights system.
I'm listening to arguments about when the system should end. But we can't afford to kick the whole idea into the long grass. The wine sector needs more freedom to respond to demand as soon as possible. My suggestion of prolonging the system of planting rights until the end of 2013 was based on the idea of a two-stage approach to balancing the sector. First grubbing-up to bring down over-production.
Then liberalisation to allow successful producers to expand. I have listened to comments from the sector but one thing is clear: a final date for the planting rights system is indispensable. What that exact date will be is going to be part of the final compromise.
Overall, Honourable Members: I have been listening to arguments from all sides, including the European Parliament, but one iron fact has not changed: our wine sector still needs reform if we want to keep it at the front of the pack.
We must seize our chance now and agree on a real reform. Carrying out reform will mean investing effort – but we'll get a good return. The cost of inaction is too high for us to accept.
I would like to leave you with quite a simple message with regard to the reform of our wine sector:
It's time to do a deal – for a reform that will make a real difference.
It's time to do a deal because, whereas the European Union's wine imports and production have been rising over the years, domestic consumption has been falling.
And it's time to do a deal because we can spend the wine sector's budget so much better than we do now – in ways that will strengthen the sector and make more sense to the public.
A deal is within our grasp. But as I say, it must be the right deal.
We live in the real world, and I have shown considerable flexibility over many of my original proposals.
But I won't allow the proposals to be watered down so far that the end product loses all taste and value.
The compromise that we find must give us a reform worthy of the name – it must give us a real chance of achieving the goals which we've set for ourselves.
Now is not the time to make excuses for inaction, and watch emerging opportunities slip through our fingers.
Now is the time to set our wine sector firmly on the road to new success.
I know I can rely on all decision-makers who have the sector's best interests at heart to do the right thing.