The EU. A bureaucratic storm in a whisky glass.

The casks beneath the old distillery at Vokzalnaya Street street, Tiraspol, have slept through some rough times. Three major civil wars, the Nazi occupation and the USSR’s attempt at a general prohibition in the 1980s haven’t prevented the annual harvest of two-thousand hectares of Riesling vines which grow on the banks of the River Dniester.

Named for the capital city, Kvint (Konyaki, Vina, iNapitiki Tiraspolya) is the flagship product of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR). Their eaux de vie sweeps the international awards and completes the marble and parquet opulence of every Empire Style hotel lounge east of Berlin. But the few citizens of the European Union who have access to the brand probably imagine it is a product of the Republic of Moldova – because that is currently what the EU requires to be stated on imported bottles.

Peter Stano, the lead Spokesperson for the EU’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is clear that the PMR “is de jure part of Moldova, and as such it is recognised by EU Member States and most members of the international community. Therefore, branding ‘Made in Moldova’ is exactly what they should do if they want to export – and they need export certificates issued by Moldovan authorities, otherwise the exports would be illegal.”

However, the UK’s Consumer Protection Act provides that a vendor’s presentation of a product which in any way deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer in relation to geographical origin is illegal, even if that information is factually correct.[2] Whereas a number of consumers clearly would be deceived by the ‘Product of Moldova’ label, even those who understand the nuance and take the de jure view that Pridnestrovia is part of Moldova, would still not be mislead by ‘Product of the PMR’ – a de facto state quite distinct from Moldova, against which it is technically at war.

Requiring that labels inform the consumer rather than support an assertion of the state puts both the UK and the EU on an interesting collision course with reality.

The guns facing each other along the River Dniester have been silent since 1992. The ceasefire partitioned the former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic into the Republic of Moldova to the West and the PMR to the East.

With an air of louche disdain more likely learned from war movies than battle-hardening, a young soldier handed back my passport and waved me through the checkpoint. In eerily quiet Tiraspol, the language, culture, cuisine and ethnic makeup are a world apart from Moldova’s vibrantly dilapidated capital, Chișinău. The cars have different number plates, the streets have names like ‘Lenin Boulevard’, the coins are emblazoned with the hammer and sickle and above it all, slightly modified by a green stripe, flies the flag of the USSR. 

Tiraspol – the name nods to a Greek heritage – has a history in trade (and indeed wine), which stretches back to the Roman Empire. Today it administers a 200km Ruritania of small villages replete with ricks, wagons and plethoric strains of orthodox church choirs.

The handmaiden of illicit military power, social engineering and imperial ideals, the superpowers compete fiercely for dominance over this extraordinary little country while refusing to recognise its existence. Maintaining the PMR’s de jure attachment to Moldova allows Russia to punish Chișinău for getting too warm with the EU. Though they are not bold enough to admit Europe’s poorest country into their bloc, the EU have seen fit to bolster the status quo with an extremely generous 2014 Moldovan free trade agreement which explicitly stipulates applies also to “those areas of the Republic of Moldova over which the Government of the Republic of Moldova does not exercise effective control.” And Moldova, most of whose citizens speak a language virtually identical to Romanian and have ready access to Romanian passports, owes much of its own credibility as an independent state to the Russian and Ukrainian diaspora within its de jure borders. “Moldovan identity is absurd,” says Edeon Dacius, an Archeologist based in Alba Iulia, Romania. “They are as Romanian as we are.” 

Can an independent Britain hope to avoid antagonising distant populations and tangled alliances? Though the position of the UK’s officials is clear, the official position is not. 

“I have discussed the impact of Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 with a colleague from Trading Standards, who enforce this piece of legislation,” said Home Counties Wine Standards Inspector, Matt Dalton-Placzek. “We have agreed that the wine regime/wider food legislation (1308, 1169 and 33-2019) have precedent here as the more relevant legislation for this product type. I would advise that wines are labelled as ‘Product of Moldova’ until the status of Pridnestrovia is resolved and the region becomes officially recognised.”

The conclusion of civil servants that EC 1308/2004, EC 1169/2011
and EC 2019/33′ (all regulations of the EU), should take
precedence over domestic legislation hardly seems inconsistent with the declared policy of HM Government.

A spokesman for the UK’s embassy in Chișinău was similarly uncertain about what lies beyond the UK’s transition period to independence. “I do not anticipate a change to labels of origin, but that is not an agreed position at this early stage.”

“For now we label the bottles ‘Made in Moldova’, in compliance with EU laws,” said a spokeswoman for Monolith.com, the only importer of Pridnestrovian wine in the UK. “We will wait until the end of the year and see what happens.”

It may ultimately fall to vendors to beat the path for those citizens who wish to peruse the wilder frontiers of their local wine merchants undisturbed by FCO idealism. 

Even if sound premises can be found to neglect citizens’ perceptions of reality for the positions of a foreign trade bloc, governments must exercise caution when picking their fights against reality. Professor George Hewitt – London consul for the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia – says that there are plenty of Abkhazian wines to attract foreign palates. “My own favourites (admittedly on the sweet side) are Apsny and Lykhny (for the reds) and Psou, plus the semi-dry Anakopia for the whites.”

Not even the EU can attach Abkhazia to Georgia for trade purposes, and exports to Britain would come through its neighbour, Russia, which does recognise Abkhazia and won’t appropriate its wine for political pragmatism.

Whatever deal the UK comes to with the EU, watch this space carefully. It is a far more instructive acid test as to whether Common Law has prevailed over supranational governance than whose flag flies over London or what colour our passports are. 

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References

1 (EC) No: 1308/2013, Regulation (EC) No:1169/2011 and Regulation (EC) No: 2019/33 enforce labelling from the state of origin. These are implemented in UK Law by The Wine Regulations 2011 S.I No 2936, as amended by SI 2013 No 3235. (link)

2 Section 5, UK Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (link)


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