The FINANCIAL -- According to the European Commission, European Union agriculture ministers on December 17 reached political agreement on the new Spirit Drinks regulation, thereby sealing a first reading agreement between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
The new regulation enhances the clarity of EU legislation on spirit drinks, combines two previous regulations into one and adapts the rules to take account of technical changes, WTO requirements and the EU's system of geographical indications. The new regulation sets out clear definitions for all spirit drinks, and should help producers market their products while providing new clarity for consumers. One of the main points of discussion since the proposal was tabled by the Commission in December 2005 has been the definition of vodka. The new regulation leaves the current definition unchanged, but changes slightly the labelling requirements. In future, vodka made from cereals or potatoes will be labelled simply as vodka. Vodka based on other raw materials will bear the indication "produced from" supplemented by the name of the raw material used. This Regulation shall enter into force on the seventh day following that of its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.
"To reach agreement between Council, Parliament and Commission in the first reading is a major achievement," said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. "I am pleased that we were able to reach a pragmatic compromise on the definition of vodka, which will allow producers of this important product to continue going about their business. I think this new Regulation will help our producers build on their success and make things clearer for consumers."
The new regulation will safeguard the reputation which EU spirit drinks have achieved in the EU and on the world market by continuing to take into account the traditional practices used in their production. Technological innovations have been taken into account where they improve quality. The regulation takes account of the provisions of the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPs Agreement”) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which forms an integral part of the Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation.
The definitions continue to respect the traditional quality practices but are updated where previous definitions were lacking or insufficient or where such definitions could be improved in the light of technological developments.
Since the Commission tabled its proposal on 15 December 2005, there have been intensive discussions in both the Parliament and Council. In line with its international obligations deriving from the Technical Barriers to Trade agreement, the Commission notified the file to the WTO, setting a two month period for comments. This procedure was completed successfully with no major reservations being expressed by the EU's trading partners. On 19 June 2007 the European Parliament backed the General Approach in a First Reading with an overwhelming majority. After successful WTO notification, the Commission also endorsed the Council compromise as voted for by the European Parliament, clearing the way for the political agreement in today's Council meeting.