Anger in Slovenia as EC reportedly grants Croatia limited use of Teran name

Anger in Slovenia as EC reportedly grants Croatia limited use of Teran name
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade December 22, 2016

The European Commission (EC) has decided that Croatia should be allowed to use the name Teran for its wine under certain conditions, Slovenian Press Agency (STA) reported on December 21 quoting unnamed sources in Brussels. The news has caused anger in Slovenia.

Croatia still sells Teran wine, even though it has been recognised by the EC as originating in Slovenia's Kras under protected designation of origin. The EC said that when Croatia joined the EU on July 1, 2013 Croatian producers could no longer sell wine under the Teran name. However, Zagreb has challenged the EC decision, and now appears to have been successful. 

Slovenia protected Teran in 2000, which means that the wine is protected against any commercial use of this name by other wines that do not respect the rules provided for Teran of the Slovenian region of Karst.

However, since Teran is also a grape variety in Croatia, the Commission reportedly decided to treat it as a "limited exception", meaning that Croatia will be allowed to use the name for wines justifying existing labelling practices, STA said.

In a previous case concerning Istarski prsut (Istrian proscuitto), for example, an agreement was reached that the dish be registered as a protected designation of origin common to Croatia and Slovenia.

Subject to clear labelling conditions, this derogation is likely to be granted to the Hrvatska Istra wine, originating in a delimitated area in Croatia where only around 300 hectares are planted with the grape variety Teran. The process to approve the limited exception is expected to be launched in January, according to STA.

Slovenian Agriculture Minister Dejan Zidan responded to the news with disappointment, announcing that Slovenia would use all legal means to challenge the decision. He did not exclude the possibility of a lawsuit against the Commission.

“With such dangerous moves the credibility of the European Commission in Slovenia has been shaken,”  Zidan said at a news conference he called in Ljubljana to comment on the issue, according to a ministry statement.

"If the Commission continues on this path, it will land at the European court, where it will be in an impossible position," he pointed out.

According to Zidan, the EU cannot allow such an exception three and a  half years after Croatia's EU accession.

“Member states must apply for any exceptions to EU rules during the accession talks and Croatia did not do that in the case of Teran,” he noted, adding that so far exceptions had been allowed only if negotiated during accession talks, during the process of registration of a name or in talks with third countries.

The minister has already informed Prime Minister Miro Cerar of the development and the issue is to be discussed by the cabinet on December 22. Zidan has also requested a meeting with European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.

Alongside Zidan, Slovenia’s Teran wine producers responded with indignation to the reports.

"Teran is produced in 86% of our vineyards. This is why we felt a great need to protect it. We have protected Teran and we have protected it on time and flawlessly. We will never give up on that," the head of the Kras consortium of Teran producers Boris Lisjak said, according to a video posted on the ministry’s website.

The ministry’s statement quoted enologist Miran Vodopivec who said that Slovenia had based its arguments on history, tradition, soil conditions and cultural heritage, which Croatia did not share.

The Commission has not yet made its decision public, but according to STA, if confirmed, the new rules concerning labelling will state that the name "Hrvatska Istra" on the wine label has to be bigger than the Teran name and that both must be placed together on the label.

Reportedly the Commission argued that limited exceptions already apply to all wine-producing member states, including Slovenia.

So far, more than 50 such derogations have been granted under restricted conditions, in particular in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany.

Slovenia is allowed such restricted use in the cases of the French Burgundy wine and German Frankish.

STA’s source in Brussels said that the Commission had received a notification from Croatia at the beginning of October regarding legislative changes concerning wine labelling, including for Teran.

Subsequently, the Commission allegedly called on Croatia to delay the legislation until the procedures granting it limited use of the Teran name were launched in January. The process will include member states as well as the European Parliament.

The unofficial news on one of the main Croatia-Slovenia disputes followed another incident between the two countries on December 20.

Government officials in Ljubljana were reportedly outraged to receive presents from the Croatian embassy consisting of chocolate boxes featuring a map of Croatia, whose border with Slovenia was drawn across the middle of the Piran Bay – the subject of a longstanding dispute between the two countries.

The border between the two countries has been an issue since 1991, when they broke away from former Yugoslavia. In 2007, the two countries decided to submit the matter for arbitration to determine the entire course of their land and sea borders. However, the Croatian government pulled out of the arbitration in 2015 after leaked transcripts revealed a Slovenian judge on the arbitration tribunal and a Slovenian foreign ministry official discussing how to influence the outcome.