EU must not adopt a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to alcohol labelling
Alcohol consumption varies between the member states, and it would be a huge mistake to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to labelling rules, writes Angélique Delahaye.
Angélique Delahaye | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
Since last year, I have been Parliament’s agriculture committee opinion rapporteur on ‘spirit drinks: definition, presentation and labelling; use of names in the presentation and labelling of other foodstuffs; protection of geographical indications’.
The system for the protection of geographical indications plays a huge role in the EU’s trade policy – this way, Europe not only succeeds in obtaining protection for its quality labels on external markets, but also encourages third countries to set up equivalent systems.
Historically, spirits represent a major part of European exports (Jean Monnet himself was a Cognac businessman) and enjoy an annual trade surplus of around € 10bn; there are more than one million jobs related to this sector.
Spirits are among the first products to have benefited from quality labels protection. In order to develop the spirits sector, the EU introduced a legal framework to ensure the harmonisation of the rules on the marketing of spirits throughout the bloc, with the adoption on 15 January 2008 of the regulation on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of spirit drinks.
After the Lisbon treaty was established in 2009, the Commission launched an agricultural text alignment project. The 2008 regulation is the last text that has yet to be processed in this way, so on 1 December 2016, the Commission proposed a recast text.
The 2008 regulation was well received by industry professionals. In its new text, the Commission has adopted a more comprehensively modern approach, which is a good thing. It also gives itself new prerogatives through implementing acts and makes substantial modifications.
The Commission proposal should be limited to modernising the 2008 text, introducing new provisions to strengthen the protection of geographical indications and changing the 2008 text as little as possible. My opinion was adopted in October 2017, the environment committee voted the on report in January, and it will be adopted in plenary later this month.
On the self-regulatory proposal due to be delivered by industry next month, there are two mistakes to avoid. First, my work in the agriculture committee has made me understand that it is very easy to confuse practical aspects with societal aspects.
Marketing, export and registration issues are practical aspects, while addressing health and consumer protection concerns are societal aspects. It doesn’t help that the report on geographical indications for spirit drinks and the self-regulatory proposal are being presented around the same time.
The second mistake would be to opt for a one-size-fits-all approach. While drafting the agriculture committee opinion report, my colleagues and I took into consideration and respected each national culture. Consumer habits vary between north and south countries. In Mediterranean countries, for example, wine consumption is completely different than in Scandinavia. How countries face the problem of binge-drinking also varies.
The right way to deal with European alcohol labelling rules is by taking into account all of these differences. I am convinced industry will go in this direction, and I hope the EU institutions will follow.
If this is the case, the new self-regulatory proposal could be very useful for industry and citizens alike.
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The EU's alcohol strategy sets the 'right priorities' and needs only reinvigorating, not reinventing, urges Pierre-Olivier Bergeron.