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Explanation regarding balsamic vinegar and the Rules on the quality of vinegar and diluted acetic acid

As per Directive (EU) 2015/1535, Slovenia (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food) submitted for notification to the European Commission a draft of the Rules on the Quality of Vinegar and Diluted Acetic Acid on 2 December 2020. The new draft rules were prepared due to a minor amendment referring to the vinegar standardisation. The purpose of notification (public discussion) of the technical legislation being drafted is to prevent trade obstacles in the EU territory.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food (MAFF) received an objection to the draft regulation from Italy during the standstill period. The Commission extended the standstill period for three months, i.e. until 3 June 2021. In this time, Slovenia had to prepare a substantiated reply or amend the regulation. Slovenia prepared a suitable reply and submitted it to the European Commission in due time but received no feedback from the European Commission or Italy.

With the draft regulation, Slovenia had no intention to interfere with the reputation of protected balsamic vinegars. The provision in the draft is identical to the currently applicable Rules on the Quality of Vinegar and Diluted Acetic Acid (Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia [Uradni list RS], No. 2/2004).

In its objection, Italy claims that placing on the market a product named "balsamic vinegar" compliant with our provision is incompatible with the principles of Community law, in which the registered names (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia, and Aceto Balsamico di Modena) are protected against the exploitation of their reputation and their citing. Italy believes that placing such a product on the market would be misleading for European consumers if they had to choose between generic "balsamic vinegar" and three protected names in the Community. In their opinion, this would be misleading for consumers regarding the true origin of the product.

The protection of names with the European Commission refers to the names in their entirety. The use of a non-geographic part of names is also permitted by the European legislation, which is already determined in the regulation with which Italy registered the protected geographical indication (PGI) of Aceto Balsamico di Modena and in the judgment of the CJEU. If a certain member state files an objection, this is a process of seeking a final solution and not of asserting power.

Slovenia believes that the term balsamic vinegar is a generic name, which is in general use and is not contrary to the protected geographical indications registered by Italy.

The fact that the adjective "balsamic" is generic is also confirmed by the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union in case C‑432/18; information was published on 4 December 2019: The Court ruled that Article 1 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 583/2009 of 3 July 2009 entering a name in the register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications [Aceto Balsamico di Modena (PGI)] must be interpreted as meaning that the protection of the name "Aceto Balsamico di Modena" does not extend to the use of the individual non-geographical terms of that name. The Court emphasised that the registration of the relevant PGI and protection that arises from it refer to the name "Aceto Balsamico di Modena" as a whole, as this name has an undeniable reputation on the national and international market. While, on the contrary, the non-geographical components of the PGI at issue, namely "aceto" and "balsamico", and their use in combination and in translation cannot benefit from this protection, especially because the term "aceto" is a common term and the term "balsamico" is an adjective commonly used to refer to a vinegar with a bitter-sweet flavour.

Similarly, recital 10 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 583/2009 states: "10) It appears that Germany and Greece did not refer to the entire name, i.e. “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” in their objections regarding the generic nature of the name proposed for registration, but only to some elements of it, namely the words “aceto”, “balsamico” and “aceto balsamico”, or to translations thereof. However, protection is granted to the term “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” as a whole. Individual non-geographical components of that term may be used, even jointly and also in translation, throughout the [European Union], provided the principles and rules applicable in the [European Union]’s legal order are respected." It follows unequivocally from the recital that non-geographical components of the relevant PGI, i.e. "aceto" and "balsamico", their combinations and translations cannot be entitled to the protection ensured by PGI "Aceto Balsamico di Modena".

With the published regulation, Slovenia does not want to diminish the reputation of protected Italian balsamic vinegars, as the provision about the "balsamic vinegar" remains the same as in the applicable Rules on the Quality of Vinegar and Diluted Acetic Acid of 2004.

Slovenia also believes that Slovenian balsamic vinegar will remain recognisable in the market in the same way as it is now.