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Prosecco, 60 days of fire to oppose EU recognition of Croatian “Prošek”

UIV and Coldiretti alongside the Italian institutions to stop a disaster that would undermine the credibility of Europe itself on the markets
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Glera, the grape from which Prosecco is made

The decision of the EU Agriculture Commission, headed by the Polish Janusz Wojciechowski, to proceed with the publication in the EU Official Journal of the application for registration of the traditional term “Prošek” by the Croatian authorities was not a surprise, but a step that Italian diplomacy was not able to stop in time, in spite of the latest sentences of the Commission of Justice in Brussels, which has - rightly - defended Champagne from the abuse of the Catalan chain “Champanillo”, which has illegitimately used the name, even if mangled, of one of the most important and recognized denominations in the world. Exactly as it is for Prosecco that, now, has 60 days of fire in front of it to avoid the consumption of real injustice. It will not be an easy battle, because “Prošek” is not a vulgar imitation of the more famous bubbles from Veneto and Friuli, but it is a sweet wine having a respectable history. However, it is clear to no one - except for the EU Commission - that the coexistence of a DOC wine such as Prosecco and a traditional mention such as Prošek is simply impossible: on international markets, it would create a huge confusion for consumers, and the only one who would pay for it would be the Italian sparkling wine, a giant with 620 million bottles and a total turnover of 2.4 billion euros, of which 78% comes from abroad.

As said, these will be two months of fire, for Unione italiana vini (Uiv) the time provided by the EU procedure must be used, to oppose, with every effort, the recognition of the Croatian mention Prosek, and in this period “Uiv will continue to support Mipaaf and the organizations for the protection of our Prosecco to defend the product with all the legal and political arguments of a case that is likely to be a dangerous precedent, especially for the protection in some international markets, where the name of the denomination is used by other producers, weakening the image of the Italian product. Prosecco - underlines the Italian organization of companies that represents 85% of the Italian wine export - is a geographical name and therefore the protection of the EU extends against usurpation phenomena, including those generated by synonyms. Finally, the Union cannot underestimate the risk of confusion for the consumer: the name Prosek inevitably recalls, for a “normally informed consumer” (as recalled by the Court of Justice), the bubbles of our country”.

Coldiretti has also returned to the issue, destined to be a topic of discussion for weeks, recalling first of all how Croatian Prošek is a sweet dessert wine traditionally from the southern area of Dalmatia for which Zagreb is asking to register a “traditional mention”, after the attempt to protect the Prošek denomination failed in 2013. The Croatian authorities are now trying again, with the support of the EU Commission, and Prosecco is yet another attack, quite different from the imitations unmasked over the years by Coldiretti, which has found on supermarket shelves Meer-secco, Kressecco, Semisecco, Consecco and Perisecco from Germany, but also Whitesecco from Austria, Prosecco from Russia and Crisecco from Moldova. In Brazil, however, in the Rio Grande area, many producers claim the right to continue using the name “Prosecco” as part of the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur countries. Also for this reason, the decision of the European Commission is a dangerous precedent, which risks weakening the EU itself in international relations and in negotiations for trade agreements, where it is necessary to protect the denomination from fakes. After the publication in the Official Journal, continues Coldiretti, “all interested parties will have a period of two months from the date of publication to submit a reasoned objection that the Commission will analyze before adopting a final decision”.

“It is necessary to immediately prepare the opposition to be presented as soon as the publication has taken place in order to stop a scandalous decision that affects the most sold Italian wine in the world”, says Coldiretti President Ettore Prandini, stressing that “the decision of the European Commission falls a few days after the historic ruling of the EU Court of Justice that clearly pronounced against the use of mispronounced terms or graphics to recall typicalities protected by EU rules. For this reason, it is important - concludes Prandini - the commitment of the Minister of Agriculture Stefano Patuanelli, of Governor Luca Zaia and of the Italian members of the European Parliament to intervene in order to have the request rejected, also appealing to the principles of protection expressed by the Court of Justice in similar cases”.

For Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, President of Federdoc, it is “a sign of marked weakness on the part of the EU in its strategy of defense for the entire system of European Do’s and IG’s and a reckless acceleration of confusion among consumers. On this second aspect - continues Ricci Curbastro - I believe it is necessary to insist, as it is the consumer who makes the difference in the success of a product. And we know very well how the pronunciation of Prosecco and Prošek are so similar that they can lead to mistakes. It is not enough to read the labels, notice the differences in the place of production and so on, we all know very well how a similar word becomes an identity in the collective imagination, with the speed of light. This is not only to the detriment of those who mistakenly buy Prošek instead of Prosecco, but also to the detriment of an entire well-defined territory. A territory that today is a value recognized also by Unesco, which has inscribed the Prosecco hills on the list of World Heritage Sites. The publication in the Official Journal of the EU of the application for registration of the traditional term “Prošek” by the Croatian authorities - underlines the president of Federdoc - is also a dangerous precedent that today involves an Italian Denomination, but could be repeated for the whole system of European DO and IG. A decision that risks a domino effect to cause a progressive weakening of the position of the EU in the defense of GIs against third countries. Consumers, agricultural operators, the territory and the quality of the Prosecco Denomination must be protected. A history and a tradition whose notoriety is now consolidated throughout the world cannot be exploited to the advantage of others”, concludes Riccardo Ricci Curbastro.

At WineNews, shortly after the deflagration of the “bomb” from Brussels, it was the director of the Prosecco Consortium, Luca Giavi, who made a first lucid analysis of the situation. “It is not just a matter of name evocation, but of consumer protection - explained Luca Giavi - because no one can deny that, even though we are talking about two different wines, we are still talking about wines, and although EU regulations allow the possibility of homonymy, I believe we will be able to explain that the problem is solved only if there is no confusion for consumers. However, as we say, and as other rulings show for less striking cases, this term is destined to create a lot of confusion. We are in any case disappointed - concludes the director of the Consortium of Prosecco Doc - both by the Commission’s pronouncement and by the specific weight Italy has had in this matter, which is close to zero. I am convinced that, without going to the Court of Justice, we will succeed in making the Commission change its mind, it is not clear why insisting after the impracticability of the Denomination of Origin we are trying this way. Also because, the judgment of the Court of Justice on the case “Champanillo” has deemed sufficient that the confusion to be generated even only in one country of the European Union”.

Clear, since yesterday, the position of the Cia - Agricoltori Italiani, which stressed that “if the European Commission were to proceed to the recognition of the mention “Prosek”, it would be an inconsistent position and bordering on madness, which would go against the European designations, rather than protection. A serious fact against which we will fight in defense of our Italian Prosecco producers”. On the political front, the shields are raised from Rome, with the words of the Undersecretary for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Gian Marco Centinaio who spoke of “a very serious decision with which Europe actually denies itself. Only a few days ago the European Court of Justice was very clear intervening in the dispute between France and Spain on the Champanillo case. According to the judges, the EU regulation protects the PDO from conduct related to both products and services and there can be an evocation of a PGI or a PDO if, being products of similar appearance, there is phonetic and visual similarity between the PGI or PDO and the sign in question. This seems to be the case for Prosecco and Prošek”. And it goes as far as the Veneto region, where the Governor of the Region, Luca Zaia, who, when he was Minister of Agriculture, contributed in a decisive way to the fortunes of Prosecco today, is even more clear: “we do not know what to make of this Europe. A Europe that does not defend the identity of its territories, a Europe that should know the history of Prosecco. It should understand that not only is Prosecco a product that has been formally recognized by the administrative structures of the European Commission, even with regard to the preservation of its name, but Prosecco has even obtained the highest recognition of World Heritage by UNESCO”.

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