Monday, September 26, 2005

EU wine lake is forming again

Despite the provision of substantial funds for restructuring and the distillation of wine into industrial alcohol, the EU wine lake is forming again. As is the case with many commodity sectors in the CAP, the underlying problem is a structural one.

On the one hand, consumption levels are down, particularly in 'traditional' wine drinking countries such as France, Italy and Spain where the total quantity of wine consumed has fallen by over 50 per cent since 1980. Wine is not necessarily a popular drink with young people in these countries, with beer, alcopops and spirits becoming more popular. In Italy, there are reports that British style binge drinking is catching on.

On the demand side, there is fierce competition from so-called 'New World' wines, e.g., from California, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. These wines are particularly popular in the British market where the emphasis is on low to medium priced 'drinkable' wines. I know that the Australians keep their best wines for domestic consumption. Chilean wines have been doing particularly well in recent years.

As a consequence, EU wine stocks are rising. In Spain wine stocks are now larger than annual production. Total expenditure in the sector in 2004 was €1.227 billion and is estimated at €1.329 billion for 2005. €450m goes into a far from successful vineyard restructing programme, €387m into wine distillation, €232m for alcohol storage and €67 million for wine storage.

A big problem has been the ineffective management of vineyard grubbing and replanting schemes by national governments. The Commission has ordered France to pay back €14.5m of funds received to restructure and modernise vineyards after the money was allegedly misspent.

The Commission has stated that 'It is possible that due to the great variations in production which are typical of the sector and modifications in domestic and world demand, it may be necessary to resort to special intervention measures on the market, as prudently allowed for by the Council.'

Translated this means 'We have no accurate idea of what is going on here so we may have to bail the sector out again and the Council knew this would be good politics because some powerful member states are involved.'

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