spiritsNEWS December 2023

Editorial by Ulrich Adam, Director General of spiritsEUROPE

At the Spirits Summit 2023, we have launched our Manifesto with our key calls and priorities for the 2024 European elections and the next European Commission. By way of introduction, we have highlighted our core strengths which are contributing to the EU growth such as the diversity and global fame of our products; our role as a trusted partner for tourism & hospitality success, as well as our unmatched ability to create high-quality, innovative and aspirational products. However, to build a brighter future for Europe and our sector, we need the right set of policies and framework conditions to be in place and in particular we need to re-strengthen the Single Market for food and drinks.

We need to bring the Single Market back into fashion and find a way to make it exciting again even if the daily work of fighting barriers to trade is long and tedious! To be fair, the Commission has heeded this call and has given the task of going through all the regulations and barriers to a former Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Enrico Letta, who will draft a report and present his findings and conclusions in Spring 2024. He can count on our full collaboration in this important task.

We will share with him examples and recommendations, starting with the most recent one which is affecting the Single Market and our sector, i.e. the new Irish law on labelling rules for alcoholic beverages that was finally enacted in June. Even some of the most ardent proponents openly admitted that it this law goes against the Single Market. Undoubtedly, the new measures will fragment the Internal Market by deviating from EU harmonised labelling rules and will also represent a disproportionate trade barrier not justifiable under EU law based on the public evidence put forward. We are now waiting for the decision over our official complaint submitted in May this year together with the beer and wine sector.

But we don’t just talk the talk, we also walk the walk. To develop the Single Market further and make it fit for the digital age, we, together with our friends in the wine sector, have become veritable pioneers of developing a comprehensive, multilingual, digitally enhanced consumer information ecosystems for food and drink products.

Today, consumers and citizens are extremely agile in using digital tools, and digital labels on food and drink products are growing quickly in popularity and use. In the coming years, more and more food and drink products will feature QR codes that consumers can easily scan to obtain multi-lingual, geo-localized trustworthy product-related information and guidance, empowering them to make more informed choices. To make the EU a true leader in digital food labels, the next European Commission should define the fundamental rules for digital food labels similar to the ones adopted for wine and which are being enacted on a voluntary basis by the spirits sector. 

The second pillar of our Manifesto is all about re-strenghtening the EU as a Global Champion for trade

We firmly believe that, in Europe, we are well advised to keep our faith in the inherent value of openness and trade.

International trade has been and continues to be of critical importance to us – not just a nice to have, but a ‘must have’ as a driver of growth and a matter of survival for many companies.

Trade, including trade in spirits, is a major driver of growth, supporting countless jobs around the world. In the EU alone, 1 in 5 jobs depends on exports! But deeper trading relationships can deliver so much more than just economic benefits. Modern-day trade agreements can act as agents of sustainable change and contribute to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by encouraging higher production standards and more sustainable practices worldwide.

With so much to go in its favour, surely supporting open trade & closer cooperation with as many partner countries as possible should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, this is less and less the case, and trade is increasingly being taken hostage by more political considerations, falsely blamed for domestic problems and challenges, and perceived as a source of vulnerability rather than an asset. The siren calls of protectionism, reshoring, and unilateralism are becoming stronger and stronger, with security and geostrategic concerns tending to dominate the debate.

We call on the next Commission and European Parliament to remember that openness is our only viable long-term option if we aspire to remain relevant both economically and geopolitically. Removal of trade barriers – with a focus on untapped markets with great potential - through new FTAs, regulatory cooperation, and better enforcement of commitments should be our shared ambition. Let’s not forget: 85% of projected growth is set to originate outside the EU borders in the next 10 years. To benefit from this growth in Europe, we need to stick to our fundamental belief in openness and trade to support the industry’s diversification efforts.

Our last call is to re-strengthen cooperation for responsible, inclusive and sustainable growth.

Sustainability has always been at the heart of what we do. The production of spirits requires a long-term view, with some aged spirits taking up to 60 or even 100 years from the start of production until the final bottling. All our products are a direct reflection of the natural surroundings – the terroir – from which they are sourced. Spirit drinks have always been part of particularly sustainable production systems, delivering long-term economic, environmental, and societal benefits to the communities that produce them. In line with this, our sector is increasingly investing in Regenerative Agriculture to improve soil quality by sequestering more carbon, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and delivering benefits to the broader ecosystem (water stewardship, biodiversity), while sustaining farmers’ productivity and profitability. Our Manifesto is calling on the EU to adopt a public-private partnership approach which combines legislative and self-regulatory initiatives to drive further progress towards more competitive, resilient & sustainable food systems. In addition, a holistic policy approach that focuses on the entire value chain is needed.

The same call for dialogue and debate with all stakeholders applies when discussing complex issues around the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and in particular how to inform consumers so they can understand the information and make their own informed, responsible choices. To stop the gradual loss of nuance in communications which is moving away from information to persuasion using fear tactics, we call on the EU to re-start a regular, structured dialogue with institutional actors and stakeholders in Brussels. For that to happen, we need a platform. The European Alcohol & Health Forum stopped before the current Commission’s mandate began. We think the next Commission should revisit the format and re-start a structured dialogue that can allow us to discuss and debate together again. 

We hope you will find our Manifesto both exciting and detailed to feed into the upcoming debates and elections, and the political considerations in the months to come. And, whatever your views, we count on your support to our broader call for a re-strengthening of the European spirit!

Ulrich Adam, Director General*

*In his capacity as permanent representative of SPRL ADLOR Consulting

STAY CONNECTED: Keep up-to-date with spiritsEUROPE’s activities via our Twitter & Newsletter