A CLEAR INTERPRETATION FROM LUXEMBOURG: THE NAME PARMESAN IS NOT GENERIC. IT IS PROTECTED IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

Reggio Emilia, 28 June 2007  –  Today, the Advocate General J. Mazak gave his opinion on the Commission vs. Germany case relating to the use of the term Parmesan. The Commission had taken Germany to Court for failure to implement the European regulation on the protection of geographical indications and, more specifically for the illegal use of the protected denomination of origin “Parmesan” for cheeses produced in Germany.
The Advocate General considers that Germany has failed to produce evidence to substantiate that the name ‘Parmesan’ has become generic. He concludes that it Parmesan should be protected as the translation of the appellation of origin (PDO) Parmigiano Reggiano in the EU in accordance with the European regulation on geographical indications (GIs).
“We welcome the clear opinion of the ECJ’s Advocate General which states that the name Parmesan is not generic. He confirms that the word Parmesan should be protected like the denomination of origin “Parmigiano Reggiano” and that its use is reserved to the Italian producers who meet the conditions set out in the Parmigiano Reggiano specification”, declared the President of the Consorzio del Parmigiano-Reggiano, Giuseppe Alai.
One of the pillars of the European GI protection system is that Members States have a duty to enforce GI protection through what is called the ex officio protection. The Advocate General is of a different view. He considers that Germany did not have to prosecute companies that are abusing the term Parmesan because it did not receive any complaint or request for legal protection.
“We are very surprised by the Advocate General’s comments. He fails to recognize that the Consorzio, the Italian government and the European Commission have repeatedly asked Germany to act against abuses of the name Parmesan for the last ten year. It is precisely because German authorities failed to take action that the Commission opened infringement proceedings in 2003 and took Germany to the European Court of Justice in 2004. More troublesome, he challenges one of the cornerstones of the European geographical indications (GIs) concept by stating that Members States do not have a duty to protect GIs ex officio”, said Giuseppe Alai.
The ruling of the ECJ is expected before the end of the year.
“We are looking forward to the confirmation by the judges that the word Parmesan is not generic and that it is reserved to Italian producers. We also hope that the ECJ will reach different conclusions with regard to the protection that is granted by the European law on geographical indications (GI). This is important for all European but also International GI producers and consumers who rely on the help of the Member States to police the market against free riders that abuse the name of registered GIs”, concluded Giuseppe Alai.