MEPs threaten to sink unambitious COVID-19 wine package

According to EU farmers lobby COPA-COGECA, the COVID-crisis will have a long-term impact on the wine sector, as 30% of the market outlet has been lost. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI) have turned down a section of an aid package proposed by the Commission for wine, fruit and vegetable producers, as it was not ambitious enough to cope with disruption caused by the pandemic.

On Tuesday (2 June), MEPs on the committee gave their green light to hasten the adoption of a set of extraordinary measures for helping the fruit and vegetable sector, but rebuffed another delegated act on the same topic.

If the plenary of the Parliament also rejects the delegated act by an absolute majority of its component members, the EU executive will be forced to withdraw its initial proposal and table a new one.

Both measures were submitted in urgent procedure as part of an overall package of 12 regulatory acts, nine implementing regulations and three delegated regulations, and it was aimed in particular at addressing the weaknesses in the fruit and vegetable and wine sectors arisen from the COVID-crisis.

Commission backtracks on intervention measures in agri-food markets

The EU Executive gave way to the pressure from the EU lawmakers and the agri-food industry announcing exceptional market measures on Wednesday (22 April), after having said there was not enough money left over for their deployment less than a week ago.

The rejected act has already been in operation since 1 May, as the sectors concerned needed a quick reaction. A clear majority of EU agriculture ministers gave an initial favourable opinion for this delegated regulation.

However, in an exchange of letters with the Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, the European Parliament manifested its doubts on one delegated act saying “it did not go far enough.”

Parliament’s concerns referred in particular to the wine sector, although would have allowed member states to introduce twice as distillation private storage flexibilities in relation to the so-called “green harvesting”, namely the total destruction or removal of grape bunches while still in their immature stage.

The proposal would have also provided increased levels of EU financing for the winegrowers, as well as exemptions from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)’s obligations.

MEPs voice 'strong reservations' about Commission's market intervention measures

In a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, MEPs on the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI) criticised the package of exceptional measures proposed by the Commission to relieve distressed agri-food markets in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Before the vote, the EU executive warned about the risk of a withdrawal, which could create some degree of uncertainty in the sector.

A Commission official said the sector would not be able to use existing envelopes to finance extraordinary measures in the wine, fruit and vegetable sector.

“And this money will effectively risk going unspent this year, which would be a wasted opportunity,” the official added.

MEPs recommended that the Commission improve the aid package with additional targeted measures that will include increasing co-financing rates, extending the list of eligible measures and expenses under the fruit and vegetables operational programmes.

As COMAGRI’s chair Norbert Lins said after the vote, the committee also decided to extend the deadline for a potential veto to give DG AGRI and Commissioner Wojciechowski more time. “We urge the Commission not to waste it,” he added.

“What the Parliament’s asking for is not money but rather, flexibility,” explained the coordinator of the socialist group, Paolo De Castro.

The Italian MEP said that his colleagues don’t have any intention of going straight to plenary, but he expects the Commission to “correct just a few things” that could be implemented very rapidly, without putting at risk the urgency of the initiative.

According to EU farmers organisation COPA-COGECA, the crisis will have a long-term impact on the wine sector.

Almost 30% of the market outlet, which represents half of the market value, has been lost due to the closure of the HoReCa (hotels, restaurants, cafes) sector during the pandemic.

The drop in consumption in the internal market, as well as the expected 14% drop in exports are not offset by increasing retail and online sales.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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