In a foyer of the European Parliament, Poland is putting its argument for a tight definition of vodka in the most persuasive way it knows.
The argument is heating up over what may be defined as vodka
In front of a table laden with regiments of shot glasses, a queue of MEPs, parliament staffers and hangers-on forms and snakes around the room.
Glasses are filled and emptied in quick succession. The volume of conversation rises. Polish sausage and brown bread are on offer to soak up the alcohol.
The vodka being dispensed is made exclusively from potatoes or grain. The Poles would like that definition to apply to everything sold as vodka across the EU. They are open to persuasion on sugar beet, but nothing else. And they are not alone. The Baltic countries - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - along with Finland, Denmark and Sweden are also backing efforts to tighten the legal definition in the EU's spirits regulation, being voted on in the European Parliament on Tuesday.
With Hungary and Slovenia prepared to back them, there are few predictions of how the vote will go. "[The vodka belt countries] produce 70% of the EU's vodka," says Finnish MEP Alexander Stubb, "and we consume 70%, so we know what we are talking about."
Ranged against them are countries like Britain, France, Italy and Spain. They may not have a centuries-old tradition of producing vodka, but they have moved adroitly to get into a growing market. Vodka has a distinguished pedigree in the EU - and beyond They make vodka using less traditional materials, including sugar beet, citrus fruit and grapes.Even Finnish MEP and vodka traditionalist Alexander Stubb admits it can be difficult to guess which vodka is made from what raw materials in a blind tasting. But he argues it is about quality.
"Call it something else," he suggests. "I don't want vodka to be a product which can be made of all agricultural products, which basically means you can use it to wash your windows."
This may not be the most urgent issue on the EU's agenda, but it is one which has exposed a cultural split: a regional division based on different tippling traditions.
"This is a battle of the vodka belt against the wine belt," says Finnish MEP Lasse Lehtinen. "In between lies the beer belt, which will get to decide."
( more on russian drinking) Thanks to Zuck
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