Italy has promised to give battle after Croatia’s request to get EU protection for its sweet dessert wine, prošek, produced in the southern area of Dalmatia whose name resembles the iconic Italian bubbly wine prosecco.
The only thing prošek and prosecco wines have in common is the admittedly similar name, as they differ in almost all their organoleptic qualities and characteristics.
However, since Croatia’s accession, Italy has never got over the possibility that the EU could grant some sort of protection to the typical Dalmatian sweet wine under the bloc’s very strict trademark laws.
The long-standing rift dates back to 2013 when Croatia first submitted an application for the protection of the traditional term ‘prošek’, complete of all information requested by EU law.
At that time, all the applications concerning traditional terms were put on hold, as a long revision process to align the regulation on the matter to the Lisbon Treaty was undergoing.
These applications were taken up again in 2019 after the adoption of the secondary legislation, with the Commission now starting to process pending files, including the ‘prošek’ one.
Traditional terms for wines are intended to convey some information to consumers about a certain description of product characteristics, like the words ‘tawny’ and ‘ruby’ used for Porto wines or ‘vin de pays‘ or ‘grand cru‘ for French wines.
Although sometimes linked to the EU’s quality scheme of protected designation of origin (PDO), the traditional terms are not part of the geographical indications (GIs) framework which guarantees the highest form of protection for foodstuff in Europe.
As recalled in 2013 by the then EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloș, the use in trade of the term ‘prošek’ may raise legal problems since it could conflict with the protection of the Italian PDO ‘Prosecco’.
Replying to a parliamentary question, Cioloș said the Croatian authorities are aware of that legal point of view, which explains why the term was not part of Zagreb’s Accession Treaty.
Although the latest request to register ‘prošek’ as a traditional term is not an application for PDO protection, it has triggered harsh reactions from the Italians, who think Croatians are trying to bypass the GIs framework.
In a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, the Italian socialist MEP Paolo De Castro said that giving the go-ahead to ‘prošek’ “might send a dangerous message that the protection of PDOs and PGIs in the EU can easily be circumvented via a parallel scheme.”
The Commission is now asked to verify both admissibility and validity of the Croatian request and, after that, a new application for objection might be published in the official journal of the EU.
According to De Castro, the EU executive should not even reach this stage and publishing the application, showing the commitment to “strengthening GIs” recently requested by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
If the Commission decides to publish the application, all interested parties have two months from the date of publication to submit an objection. The Commission will then analyse the objections received and will be able to take a final decision on the basis of all available information.
Croatian MEP Tonino Picula also sent a letter to Wojciechowski, saying that the entire situation is another attempt from the strong Italian wine industry to thwart Croatia’s efforts of protecting an indigenous, traditional product.
Prošek is a traditional Croatian dessert wine that has no connection in taste, grape types or production technology with Italian prosecco, Picula explained in the letter.
Croatian winemakers, he added, have so far extended an olive branch showing willingness to compromise by asking to add the adjective ‘Dalmatian’ to the term ‘prošek’ in order to further emphasise the difference from Italian prosecco.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]