The importance of the EU’s spirit drinks regulation
We have greatly appreciated the dialogue with MEPs and EU and national officials on the Commission’s proposal for the alignment of the spirit drinks regulation. It should be recalled that the current regulation is fully valid and is strongly supported by spirits producers. It does not need any significant changes and, although the Commission’s proposal for the aligned text contained many changes, they were not deemed great enough to require an impact assessment. Against that background, proposed changes are now emerging that would substantially alter the rules. They would undermine the spirit sector’s reputation for traditional and high quality spirits. It should be recalled that this reputation underpins sales to third countries of €10 billion, the EU’s most valuable agri-food export.
Of greatest concern is the proposal that the raw material base for spirits should be widened. Spirits are currently required to be made only from agricultural raw materials, a direct link that producers value and which is reflected in the agriculture legal base for the proposal. The suggestion now that ‘processed agricultural products’ might also be used as raw materials is wholly unwelcome and it is hard to see how it could benefit spirits producers. Indeed it is more likely to devalue our sector. Spirits producers have not requested this change and we do not need it to produce high quality spirits. We hope, therefore, that our raw material base will continue to be agricultural only.
Separately, it appears that there are plans to re-write every definition of every spirit drink. Again, it is hard to see where the advantages would lie. At present, the definitions are comprehensive and, other than in a few small areas, do not need to be overhauled. The definitions of individual categories (rum, brandy, vodka etc.) provide all the information in one place to indicate how each spirit is produced and the specific rules to which they are subject. On the other hand, there are now proposals to carve up the definitions and disperse their component parts throughout the regulation. This is unnecessary and will complicate the rules. This does not fit with the ‘better regulation’ agenda. It would be preferable simply to leave the current definitions intact and to make only the minor adjustments that are recognised as being necessary.