Inadequate Environmental Conditions for EU Funding

The European Court of Auditors has sharply criticized the distribution of EU subsidies for viticulture in a special report.

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Are the wine subsidies being wasted? (Photo:Oliver Boehmer - bluedesign®,
Are the wine subsidies being wasted? (Photo:Oliver Boehmer - bluedesign®,

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has criticized the EU's support measures for viticulture. The special report "Restructuring and Planting of Vineyards in the EU" mainly laments the lack of ecological ambition and unclear effects on competitiveness.

The ECA concludes that there are no measurement criteria to determine how support measures affect the competitiveness of businesses. Moreover, the lack of ecological sustainability – supposedly one of the main objectives of the EU reforms for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – is deplored.

Therefore, it is mandatory for member states to allocate a minimum of 5% of their subsidy funds to initiatives aimed at goals including the protection of the environment, adapting to climate change, enhancing the sustainability of production systems, or diminishing the environmental footprint of the wine industry.

Lacking structure and purpose

The report suggests that countries like France and Italy aim to fulfill this 5% criterion "exclusively through the distillation of by-products." The specific meaning of this strategy is not elaborated upon, but it could potentially involve using the industrial alcohol derived from this distillation for energy production.

The Commission acknowledges that the stipulated 5% allocation for environmental and climate goals is modest, yet notes it as "an improvement over the previous national support programs for the wine sector." The ECA reports that the EU annually allocates €500m (about $545m) to assist wine producers in the restructuring of their vineyards.

According to the ECA, the environmental objectives of the CAP reform are contradicted when, for example, restructuring in Castilla-La Mancha promotes the transition from vineyards of the heat- and drought-resistant Airén variety to Syrah, which requires partial irrigation in the dry and hot climate. This occurred between 2007 and 2023. The aim was to increase revenue for producers by switching to the "more valuable" grape variety, but given the current surplus of red wine, the success of this strategy is questionable.

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