The BBC reports on a brewing conflict in the European Parliament: the "vodka-belt" countries (the Baltics and Finland, Denmark, and Sweden) want Parliament to accept a stricter standard for what can be counted as "vodka" in the spirits market. They're pushing for this in response to the wine-producing countries of France, Italy, and Spain (with Britain thrown in there for good measure -- goodness knows no good wine is produced there) increasing their stake in the vodka market, despite producing the spirit from such non-traditional ingredients as sugar beet, citrus fruit, and grapes. The vodka countries' representatives insist that the overall quality of the spirit is diminished when other countries veer away from using traditional ingredients such as potatoes and grain. As one Finnish representative put it, "[The vodka belt countries] produce 70% of the EU's vodka, and we consume 70%, so we know what we are talking about."
An interesting aspect of this battle is how the voting blocs cross traditional Eastern and Western European political alliances. The wine countries are of course solidly Western European. But the so-called vodka belt pairs former communist states such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with the equally vodka-loving Scandinavians; their bloc is also supported by Hungary and Slovenia. The battle over how to define "authentic" vodka-production is thus a matter of who's doing the drinking.
How the votes will fall is hard to predict. Acknowledging the split votes based on region, agriculture, and drinking traditions, another Finnish representative makes the astute point: "This is a battle of the vodka belt against the wine belt... In between lies the beer belt, which will get to decide."