Geographical Indications, GIs. What’s new in the European Union

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Geographical Indication

On 24 October 2023, the European Parliament and the Council finally reached an agreement on the European Commission’s proposal for a regulation on ‘Geographical Indications’, GIs. The new features concern the simplification of the registration process and the strengthening of protection in the European Union. Details and short notes to follow.

1) Geographical Indications, GIs. Premise

The protection of the ‘Geographical Indications’ has been introduced in the European Economic Community for over four decades (EEC Reg. 2081, 2981/1992), with the aim of protecting and enhancing traditional agri-food products. GIs are divided into Protected Designation of Origin (DOP, or AOP or PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI, or PGI) and Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (STG, or TSG).

The objective to enhance the products bearing registered GIs has only been partially achieved, given that overall annual sales exceed 80 billion euros but the large numbers concern the only and few renowned GIs, mainly ‘Made in Italy’. (1) The reform of the current regulation, contained in Reg. (EC) No 1151/2012, therefore aims to simplify and at the same time strengthen this system.

2) The innovations introduced by Parliament and the Council

The European Parliament, as seen, approved on 31 May 2023 the European Commission’s proposal for a regulation on ‘EU Geographical Indications and Quality Schemes’. (2) In the following months, following negotiations with the Council, an agreement was reached on the definitive text of the provision, in the following terms. (3)

2.1) Simplification of procedures

The European regime of quality linked to GIs – previously divided into specific disciplines for food products, wines and spirits – is now summarized in a single legal framework.

The registration procedure has been simplified and its examination will last 6 months, extendable for another 3 months if further information is necessary (new article 17.3-bis).

The abbreviation of the times should stimulate the proposal of new GIs, especially by those countries that have not yet resorted to the European protection regime to promote their traditional agri-food products.

2.2) Strengthened protection of GIs

The names and notoriety of GIs cannot be unduly exploited, even when they are used as ingredients in other products. In these cases, their recall outside the list of ingredients will be permitted only with prior written agreement with the producers’ association (i.e. protection consortium) or, in its absence, through an agreement signed by the majority of producers (art. 28.2. See notes 4,5).

Member States will have to protect the reputation of the Geographical Indications and prevent or stop the use of the names of products or services and web domain names that violate the protection of the GIs (new article 42.3). (6) EUIPO will be responsible for monitoring the registration of improper domain names in the Union, through a monitoring and alert system on possible non-conformities (art. 34.3). (7)

2.3) Incentives for ‘sustainability practices’

Geographical indications they can play an important role in terms of sustainability, including in the circular economy sector‘, in line with the objectives of the Green Deal (new recital 1-bis). Sustainability practices should therefore be supported on both an economic and informational level.

Producers’ associations however, they have the sole right to:

– adopt one or more of the ‘sustainability practices’ of which the regulation indicates a non-exhaustive list of examples (art. 12). With the power to provide for the obligation, in this case to be included in the production specifications (art. 51.2),

– publish reports on the economic, environmental, social and animal welfare sustainability practices adopted, as well as their impact on product development and the progress made (art. 12-bis).

2.4) Prohibition of undue exploitation of notoriety

The notoriety of geographical indications cannot be exploited for unregistered products that are ‘comparable’ to registered products. Member States will be able to adopt administrative and judicial measures – to be adopted in an objective and impartial manner – adequate to put an end to the crimes. (art. 27).

The usurpation, counterfeiting, imitation or evocation of a protected name occurs, pursuant to the new regulation – even only when the geographical indication contains one or more non-generic terms and these are used in the name of an unregistered product (art. 27.4-bis ). (8)

3) Producer associations

Producers association is any association, regardless of its legal form, made up of producers of raw materials, processors or operators involved in the production of the same product’ (Article 2.1.a). They can be established by stakeholders or on the initiative of a Member State (art. 32).

The associations of producers represent and act on behalf of all producers involved in protected GIs. They have the roles and powers of:

  • submit registration applications, process and request changes to the specifications and include the sustainability commitments to be described in the relevant report,
  • promote protected products through information activities towards consumers and promote rural and sustainable tourism in the geographical area indicated in the specification,
  • activate the measures necessary to combat commercial practices that may be harmful to the image of the product (art. 32).

3.1) Unions of producer associations

The ‘unions of producers associations‘ they may in turn be established as new intermediate bodies and beneficiaries of public funding, with the functions of:

  • participate in advisory bodies,
  • exchange information with public authorities on topics relating to geographical indications,
  • make recommendations to improve policies regarding GIs,
  • promote and disseminate good practices among producers, and
  • participate in promotional measures.

4) Member States and European Commission, distribution of roles

It is confirmed the leading role of the Member States, who will have competence in the application of GIs, the control of the correct use of registered terms and the fight against fraud, in the sale and use of GIs. To this end, Member States must designate the competent authorities to adopt the necessary measures to prevent or stop the illicit use of GIs (art. 27, new paragraph 7-bis).

The Commission however, it maintains responsibility for the registration, modification and cancellation of registrations. Amendments that have effects on the single market will also need approval from the European Commission to come into force.

5) The role of EUIPO

EUIPO, European Union Intellectual Property Office, takes on a very important role in the various phases of registration and protection of GIs. With the tasks of:

  • carry out a preliminary examination of the registration applications to be submitted to the Commission (art. 17.1-bis),
  • maintain and update the European register of Geographical Indications with new registrations, modifications and cancellations (art. 23.1-bis),
  • help producer associations to protect their rights and comply with the regulations in force in non-EU countries. In addition to offering them legal advice in negotiations on international agreements on GIs,
  • monitor and manage the alarm system aimed at preventing the registration of web domain names that could conflict with the names of registered geographical indications.

6) Entry into force

The agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council on 24 October 2023, after formal approval by the European institutions, will be published in the Official Journal. Its entry into force is expected in the first months of 2024.

Dario Dongo and Alessandra Mei

Footnotes

(1) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. #DopEconomy, ISMEA – Qualivita 2020 report. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 13.12.20

(2) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. EU Geographical Indications and quality schemes, new rules coming soon for PDO, PGI, TSG. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 4.6.23

(3) Report on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on European Union geographical indications for wine, spirit drinks and agricultural products, and quality schemes for agricultural products, amending Regulations (EU) No 1308/2013, ( EU) 2017/1001 and (EU) 2019/787 and repealing Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 https://tinyurl.com/r8y7zu5z

(4) This rule had already been introduced in Italy. See the previous article by Dario Dongo. PDO and PGI ingredients on the label and advertising of other products, MiPAAFT clarifications. FARE (Food and Agriculture Requirements). 7.5.19

(5) The new regulation thus surpasses the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the ‘Champagner Sorbet’ case. See the previous article by Dario Dongo. DOP ingredients. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.1.18

(6) A recent example was offered by the French Council of State, which censored the evocations of the ‘Camembert de Normandie AOP’ cheese. See Dario Dongo. France, Camembert de Normandie AOP. The Council of State rejects the evocations of the PDO. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.10.22

(7) Furthermore, the EUIPO’s powers over web domains registered with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), in third countries, by operators based outside the ‘European Union

(8) Names considered generic, such as ‘balsamic vinegar’ in the CJEU jurisprudence, will also remain unprotected. See Dario Dongo. Balsamic vinegar of Modena, green light for imitations from the EU Court of Justice. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 5.12.19

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.