The General Court of the European Union (EU) has dismissed an annulment action brought by Hungary, seeking to overturn a protected Slovakian designation of origin for wine produced in the Tokaj region which both countries share. Hungary v. Commission, Case T-194/10 (Gen. Ct., decided November 8, 2012). Hungary will have two months to bring an appeal to the Court of Justice, as to points of law only.
The European Commission registered the protected designation of origin ‘Vinohradnicka oblast’ Tokaj’ on Slovakia’s behalf in the 2006 and 2007 lists of quality wines produced in specified regions (QWPSR). On July 31, 2009, the day before the EU established the E-Bacchus database to publish the QWPSR lists, Slovakia requested a modified designation— ‘Tokajská/Tokajské/Tokajsky vinohradnicka oblast’—which became the new protected designation on the electronic database. Several months later, Slovakia requested that the Commission revert to the original designation of origin, and the Commission amended the designation as requested.
Hungary then contested the amendment, claiming violations of applicable regulations and contending that the name ‘Tokajská/Tokajské/Tokajsky vinohradnicka oblast’ enjoyed Community protection on August 1, 2009, “the date of the entry into force of the new legislation of the Union on the market in the wine sector.” The court found to the contrary that wine names protected in the EU before the E-Bacchus database was introduced “are automatically protected under the legislation in force since that database was introduced.” Thus, the protection “did not depend on the registration of those names in the database.” According to the court, the registration was simply the result of an automatic transition “from one regulatory regime to another, of protection that has already been granted and is not a condition for the grant of that protection.”
Because Slovakian law in effect on August 1, 2009, the day the E-Bacchus database was introduced, protected the name ‘Vinohradnicka oblast’ Tokaj’ “only that name was protected in the EU on that day.” The incorrect change incorporated on Slovakia’s behalf “does not change the fact that, pursuant to the Slovak legislation which alone is relevant, the name ‘Vinohradnicka oblast’ Tokaj’ enjoyed protection on 1 August 2009. Nor is the fact that the new Slovak law on wine—adopted on 30 June 2009—included the name ‘Tokajská vinohradnicka oblast’ capable of calling into question the protection enjoyed by the name ‘Vinohradnicka oblast’ Tokaj’ on 1 August 2009, because the new [Slovakian] law only entered into force on 1 September 2009.” See General Court of the European Union Press Release, November 8, 2012.