Belgians submit Citizens’ Initative to make ‘frites’ their own

Frites belges.jpg

Belgium's attempt at registering the ubiquitous ‘frites’ as a traditional specialty protected under EU law received a boost today (1 April) when the ‘Brussels Frites Forum’ prepared to formally register a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) with over one million signatures.

[Editors' note: Please check publication date]

The surprise petition came as the European Commission opens today (1 April) for the registration of the first European Citizen’s Initiative, the EU’s first venture into participative democracy.

The European Citizens’ Initiative, as introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, allows citizens from at least seven EU member states to request new legislation once a million signatures  have been collected asking the European Commission to do so (EURACTIV 14/01/10).

With the one million signatures, the ‘Brussels Frites Forum’ hopes to gain exclusive right to sell fried potatoes under the names ‘frites’, ‘chips’ and ‘French fries’ as a traditional specialty with Protected Geographical Status (see Background).

The Belgian move would grant Brussels similar rights over chips enjoyed by other regions over famous foodstuffs – such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Camembert, Somerset Cider Brandy and Champagne.

Special frying method sets Brussels apart

Pierre Omdeterre, the director of the ‘Brussels Frites Forum’ said that the most difficult part of the campaign had been to assemble a committee of citizens from at least seven member states, as required under EU law.

One committee member from Hungary, who spoke to EURACTIV on condition of anonymity, said he had joined the citizen’s initiative in return for official recognition by Belgium that Brussels sprouts originally came from Budapest. Another from Italy said he had traded his support in return for recognition that the Apfelstrudel originated from the Dolomites.

Omdeterre said a dossier compiled by the committee had amassed overwhelming scientific evidence that the Belgian product’s taste set it apart from other fried potatoes.

“The way we sink them twice into boiling cow fat makes their taste very distinctive, and also gives them a texture that cannot be replicated with potatoes immersed in non-cow based products,” said Omdeterre.

A spokesman for the French agriculture ministry said this was not the first time that “meddlesome interests” had tried to stamp a geographical indicator onto potatoes.

“Potatoes are not an ‘up for grabs’ product. Everyone owns them. If they want to start a debate about who cooks them best, it is one we are confident we can win,” he added.

Meanwhile sources close to the main French potato farming unions warned that if the Commission accepted the preliminary application by Belgium, it would provoke a tractor blockade of the French/Walloon border.

Daniel Fyshhe-Super, of the UK-based Chipped Potato Suppliers Group, said that the move was an example of “guerilla advertising at its worst”.

“Chips are a staple of the British diet, and have been for centuries. Thousands of British citizens suffer from cholesterol problems – and many pay with their lives every year – as a result of their love of chips,” said Fyshhe-Super.

“We are already dying for them – so we are prepared to go into battle on this.”

Protected Geographical Status is a legal framework defined in European Union law to protect the names of regional foods.

Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indication and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed are distinct regimes of geographical indications within the framework.

The law (enforced within the EU and being gradually expanded internationally via bilateral agreements between the EU and non-EU countries) ensures that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed in commerce identified as such.

The legislation came into force in 1992. The purpose of the law is to protect the reputation of the regional foods, promote rural and agricultural activity, help producers obtain a premium price for their authentic products, and eliminate the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.

  • 1 April 2012: 'Brussels Frites Forum' to officially register its Citizen's Initiative.
  • The European Commission has two months to respond after a citizens' committee approaches it to request the registration of an ECI.

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