Following the model applied for food geographical indications, the new system would help fight counterfeiting, protect jobs and products which are part of Europe's cultural heritage
A new EU-wide system for protecting Industrial and Craft Geographical Indications (ICGIs), built on the successful model used for agricultural products and food, would be beneficial for both craftsmen and local economies. The new system would strengthen the legal protection of products of excellence, help combat counterfeiting and create and maintain jobs. The proposal is included in an opinion drafted by Martine Pinville, Member of the Regional Council of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, adopted by unanimity on Wednesday 13 October by the Plenary of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR).
Bohemian crystal from the Czech Republic, Solingen cutlery from Germany, Limoges porcelain from France, Murano glass from Italy, ceramics from Puente del Arzobispo and Talavera in Spain or the Donegal tweed from Ireland are just a few examples of European products which are not only emblems of centuries-old craft traditions, but part of a European cultural heritage legacy that is well known and valued within the EU and beyond. The rich diversity of European artisanship can be seen in its cities, provinces, and regions, centres of local production based on knowledge that has often been passed down through the generations.
In its opinion, adopted by unanimity at its plenary, the CoR calls on the European Commission to draw up the legal framework to protect Europe's handicraft and industrial products. According to local and regional leaders, the lack of harmonisation at EU level with respect to ICGIs results in a patchwork of national legal instruments, weakening the protection of products and businesses.
Rapporteur Martine Pinville (FR/PES), Member of the Regional Council of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, said: "Over the last few months, I have been able to exchange views with representatives of SMEs, associations and public authorities from all over Europe, who have all agreed on the need for a European framework for Industrial and Craft Geographical Indications' (ICGIs), as is already the case for agricultural geographical indications. Protecting our heritage, maintaining added value and jobs in a territory are all issues linked to ICGIs for our communities. The mobilisation of the European Committee of the Regions is essential to ensure that a concrete proposal is put on the table quickly by the European Commission and that it is adapted to the reality of our territories."
The CoR underlines the economic aspects of protecting ICGIs as it increases producers' competitiveness by making their products stand out, enhancing their reputation and increasing consumers' willingness to pay for products that come with a guarantee regarding their features and origin. Geographical Indications respond to changing consumer demand: people want greater traceability and transparency about a product's origin and manufacturing process, and are increasingly looking for locally-made products. This trend has only increased during the COVID-19 crisis.
Moreover, CoR members highlight that the link between geographical region and product is fundamental and that a particular aspect of this is the paramount importance of the human factor and expertise for ICGIs. The fact that a raw material has disappeared or is no longer suitable in some regions has not prevented businesses and expertise from being maintained, or even developed to make high-quality products.
The CoR plenary takes place during the 19th European Week of Regions and Cities, co-organised by the CoR and the European Commission, which runs from 11 to 14 October.
This is the second time in six years that the CoR has called on the European Commission to draw up a proposal for regulation to protect ICGIs in the European Union. A first opinion entitled Extending geographical indication protection to non-agricultural products, drafted by Maria Luisa Coppola (IT/EPP) was adopted in February 2015.
The European Commission then announced in its Intellectual property action plan, adopted in November 2020, that it would look into the feasibility of introducing a scheme to protect EU geographical indications (GIs) for non-agricultural products (i.e. handicrafts and industrial goods). As a result, a public consultation was launched to assess the impact of the potential costs and benefits of creating an efficient and transparent EU geographical indication protection system; the consultation ended in July 2021. The aim was to get detailed insight into the issues faced by relevant stakeholders, among others, concerning the existing legal protection of authentic geographically rooted non-agricultural products within the internal market; the benefits and risks of EU action; and the available policy options, including the control and enforcement of a future EU-protection system for such products. The feedback received to the inception impact assessment was complemented by two legal and economic studies. The Commission should present its proposal for a regulation by the end of the year.
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