General Court: Teran also from Croatian Istra region

On Wednesday, 9 September 2020, the General Court published its long-awaited judgement in the “Teran” case (Case T-626/17), which started already back in 2017, and dismissed Slovenia’s action for annulment of the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/1353 of 19 May 2017 amending Regulation (EC) No 607/2009 as regards the wine grape varieties and their synonyms that may appear on wine labels, pursuant to which the designation ‘Teran’ may be used on the labels of Croatian wines, produced in Istra region.

When Slovenia joined the EU it forwarded its list of quality wines to the European Commission. Amongst the wines recognised with the national legislation was also the designation “Kras, teran”. On 17 February 2006 Slovenian protected designation of origin “Teran” was registered in the database of EU geographical indications of origin. With this, only Slovenian wine producers meeting the prescribed requirements were entitled to use the designation, while Croatian winemakers were no longer allowed to label and sell their wines under this term.

In April 2013, just before Croatia’s accession to the EU, Croatian wine marked with the term “teran” was found on the Slovenian market. The Slovenian Wine Inspectorate withdrew the incorrectly marked wine from circulation. At that time, the European Commission also confirmed that the designation “teran” is reserved exclusively for Slovenia and that after Croatia’s accession, Croatian wine could not be sold as “teran”. Immediately after the incident, Croatia proposed a joint cross-border protection of Teran at a meeting of agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, but Slovenia rejected the proposal insisting that the designation of origin was intended exclusively for Slovenian wine.

Upon its accession to the EU on 1 July 2013, Croatia requested that its national list of recognized vine varieties, including the designation “teran”, be added to the list of vine varieties containing a protected geographical designation of origin. The European Commission announced that, in line with the practice of previous accesses, this list will be included after accession, so Croatia withdrew its request. The European Commission then adopted an Implementing Delegated Regulation, which included the names of the grape varieties traditionally used for the sale of wine produced on Croatian territory in Annex XV of the Regulation no. 607/2009. There was no sign of the “teran” vine on this list, because a compromise solution was expected to be reached between Slovenia and Croatia.

However, no agreement was reached and the European Commission adopted the controversial Delegated Regulation no. 2017/1353, which amended Regulation no. 607/2009, so that the name of the variety “Teran” was added to the list of grape varieties. The exception to use the designation of the variety, which is a homonym of the Slovenian protected designation of origin, was allowed only for the designation of origin “Hrvatska Istra” protected at the EU level after the accession of Croatia. An additional condition set by the Delegated Regulation is that the inscriptions “Hrvatska Istra” and “teran” must be in the same field of vision and that the name of the variety “teran” must be written in smaller letters than the Croatian designation of origin.

On 15 September 2017 Slovenia brought an action against the European Commission before the General Court of the EU, requesting that the Delegated Regulation be annulled. Slovenia supported its action with eight grounds of appeal, claiming the retroactive use of the second subparagraph of Article 100(3) of Regulation No 1308/2013, which is the legal basis of the contested regulation, and infringement of the principles of legal certainty and the protection of legitimate expectations.

Almost exactly 3 years after the action was filed, the General Court published its decision, where it was found that the Commission did in fact apply the second subparagraph of Article 100(3) of Regulation No 1308/2013 retroactively, but did in doing so did not commit any breaches as the Commission had acted in accordance with the general scheme and the wording of the provisions concerned, since the Commission could not adopt the contested regulation before the accession of Croatia to the EU. Additionally, the General Court observed that the contested regulation pursued an objective in public interest, which is why it was required to be given retroactive effect. Lastly, the General Court decided that Slovenia had not established that the retroactive application of the contested regulation had infringed the legitimate expectations of Slovenian wine producers. Due to all of the above mentioned reasons, the General Court dismissed Slovenia’s action and decided that each party has to bear its own costs.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture, forestry and food has already stated that Slovenia is dissatisfied with the judgement and that it is already looking into the possibility of filing an appeal before the CJEU, for which it has a little over two months.

The judgement can be accessed here, and its summary here.