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Despite Slovenia’s strong arguments, the European Commission continues the procedure of granting an exception to Croatia

The European Commission failed to submit a written opinion at the Special Committee on Agriculture as was expected after the meeting between Minister Židan and Commissioner Hogan last Thursday. In its verbally expressed legal opinion, the Commission also failed to provide new arguments for the adoption of the delegated act for granting an exception to Croatia for the use of the name Teran. Although Slovenia decisively objects to this and has proven that the Commission would thus exceed its powers and set a serious precedent for other applicable cases of protection, the Commission is continuing the procedure, as demonstrated by the publication of the agenda for the Expert Committee on Wine, to take place next Tuesday, which also includes the delegated act discussing the list of exceptions.

At the session of the Special Committee on Agriculture, the discussion of Slovenia’s document took place as a miscellaneous item. In this, Slovenia pointed out the contentiousness of the European Commission’s intent to permit Croatian wine producers, via the delegated act, to label wine with the name of the Teran variety, which is a protected designation of origin for the wine produced in the Slovenian Karst Plateau. This topic will also be discussed at the meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 23 January 2017.


At the session, Slovenia presented its arguments contending that the Commission would exceed its powers by adopting such an act. It also highlighted that this issue should have been discussed within the framework of Croatia’s accession negotiations. 


As agreed at the meeting last Thursday between Dejan Židan, Slovenian Minister of Agriculture, and Phil Hogan, the Commissioner for Agriculture, the European Commission presented its legal opinion regarding the delegated act at the session of the Special Committee on Agriculture; however, this opinion was not presented in writing, as requested by Minister Židan. In its verbal communication, the Commission failed to provide new facts or arguments. It repeated that the grounds for such an act lie in paragraph three of Article 100 of Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 and that, in its understanding, such powers were not limited by time or related to the fact of whether the existing practices were legal or not. The Commission explained that Croatia had submitted its request for granting an exception already before its accession to the EU, and that the Commission granted Croatia two exceptions (Burgundy and Štajerka) upon its accession in August 2013 by means of an implementing act according to the previous regulation on common organisation of the market. On the basis of the regulation applicable only since 1 January 2014, the Commission is now resolving the existing practice of labelling the Teran variety. The Commission detected the existing labelling practices in Croatia and has observed this in its review of the existing protected designations of origin. According to the Commission, the labelling would be limited in the delegated act in a way that the name of a variety would have to be written in the same field of vision as the protected geographical indication, Hrvatska Istra, but in smaller letters in order to avoid misleading consumers. The Commission also stressed that there were 53 protected designations of origin in the EU, where exceptions apply, two of which were also granted to Slovenia. 


In its response, Slovenia stated that its legal understanding was different and that the Commission’s powers could not be unlimited regarding time and content, since the regulation must be understood as a whole when interpreting it. The powers must also not be used for the legalisation of illegal practices, and even if Croatia’s request was submitted before the accession, it should have been the subject of accession negotiations. Slovenia was not informed of the relevant Croatian request. On the contrary, when the Commission proposed only two other exceptions for Croatia and a three-year transitional period for the sale of old stock of the wine labelled Teran, which ended on 30 June 2016, the Slovenian wine producers were certain that the protection of the name Teran was exclusive. Slovenia also pointed out that granting such an exception would result in misleading Slovenian consumers, and in particular, it would set a serious precedent to address other protected designations of origin for wines, e.g. Tokaj, for which Slovenia was not granted an exception from Hungary during its accession negotiations. Likewise, permanent exception for Tokaj was also not granted to other countries which used this name, e.g. Italy and France. 


At the meeting of ministers of agriculture next Monday, Slovenia will ask the countries to examine from the procedural aspect whether the proposed intention of the Commission exceeds the powers granted and sets a precedent on the basis of which the Commission could unilaterally interfere with all existing protected designations of origin, including possible consequences of such conduct on the relations in the jurisdiction of the Commission, the EU Council and the European Parliament. This afternoon, the Commission published the agenda for the Expert Committee on Wine taking place on 24 January 2016. One of the items discussed will also include the delegated act amending the list of exceptions for wine labelling. As per the recent developments, we expect that the act will refer to the exception for Teran. If, in spite of Slovenia’s serious objection and its substantial arguments, the Commission adopts the delegated act, Slovenia will use all its legal options to contest the decision at the EU Council, the European Parliament and the Court of Justice of the European Union.


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