Regulation 110/2008: alignment or complete re-write?

Work on the new spirit drinks legislation continues, but the proposed changes are now so wide-ranging that it can no longer be considered as an alignment; instead we are in the middle of a complete re-write of the legislation.  That was not the plan and there are several new elements that are causing deep concern to spirits producers. 

It is worth recalling that the Commission’s draft did not require an impact assessment; while the changes it proposed were significant, it was not felt that they would radically reshape the law’s influence.  We are now in a position, however, that the current set of proposals emerging from Council would definitely have required an impact assessment.  We are therefore very grateful that Member States have accepted the industry’s proposal that there should be a pause to allow everyone an opportunity to reflect on what all the proposed changes might mean.

A key of concern is the proposal fundamentally to change the basis for the Regulation.  Spirits are obliged to be made only from agricultural raw materials, something the sector strongly supports.  However, it has been suggested that residues from the industrial processing of beer should also be allowed.   Perhaps the industry has not been clear enough:  we want to continue to make spirits only with agricultural raw materials; we do not want to make spirits with industrial residues from beer. 

Separately, almost every definition in the law is being changed, with little or no justification.   Definitions are being split between 2 places, a move which will make them harder to understand; elements are being added or removed with the result that there are huge inconsistencies between the definitions; restrictions on the use of colours are proposed with no evidence to justify the changes to longstanding traditional practice.

Changes to labelling rules for mixed spirits seem capable of allowing the re-emergence of huge problems in the 1990s from misleadingly labelled spirits - it took an ECJ case and changes to the law resolve those issues.  And it looks as if we are losing the flexibility in the current law to adjust definitions when circumstances require - that would turn the clock back 30 years. 

In sum, we need time to make sure the regulation continues to work in the interests of the EU spirits sector: at €10.2 billion, it remains one of the EU’s most valuable agri-food export.