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25th Jan 2021

EU 'failed to protect bees and pollinators', report finds

Key EU policies intended to protect and halt the decline of pollinators across the bloc have been largely inefficient, according to a new report of the European Court of Auditors on Thursday (9 July).

The commission estimates that nearly €15bn of EU annual agricultural output is attributed to pollinators such as bees, wasps, butterflies, moths and beetles.

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However, their number has been falling for years - mainly due to intensive agriculture and the use of pesticides.

The data available for both bees and butterflies show that one-out-of-ten species is at risk of extinction in Europe.

"Pollinators play an essential role in plant reproduction and ecosystem functions, and their decline should be seen as a major threat to our environment, agriculture and quality food supply," said Samo Jereb, member of the auditor's team in charge of the report.

"The EU initiatives taken so far to protect wild pollinators have unfortunately been too weak to bear fruit," he added.

The auditors emphasised that the 2018 Pollinators Initiative has not led to any major changes in key policies because it did not set up a legal framework or specific funds for the protection of pollinators.

Additionally, the report indicates that only 22 of the 5,065 projects funded with the EU's instrument for the environment and climate action (LIFE) in the period 1992-2018 was aimed at specifically tackling the decline of pollinators.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg-based auditors consider that the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) is part of the problem.

According to Martin Dermine, environment policy officer at Brussels-based NGO PAN Europe, Thursday's report confirms "the schizophrenic attitude" already displayed by the commission on this issue.

"On the one hand, millions of euros are spent to support farmers in planting flower strips or replant hedges along their fields to help restore biodiversity; on the other, billions are spent in the CAP to support intensive agriculture - which is the main cause of the massive decline in bee populations," said Dermine.

The association BeeLife said in a statement that the CAP, which is currently under reform, can be differently shaped so that European agriculture can both protect and benefit from pollinators.

EU pesticide legislation's legal gaps

EU auditors also concluded that the pesticides legislation currently in place includes "risk assessments based on guidance which is outdated and poorly aligned with legal requirements and the latest scientific knowledge".

As a result, member states continue granting emergency authorisations for banned pesticides which are harmful to pollinators - and humans.

Between 2013 and 2019, member states granted some 206 emergency authorisations for the use of three neonicotinoids - imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin - even though their application was restricted in 2013 and banned for outdoor use in 2018.

In 2018, the commission had to request Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania and Romania to stop granting authorisations for these three neonicotinoids.

And earlier this year, the EU executive legally obliged Lithuania and Romania to stop granting authorisation for uses where there are available alternatives.

In its Farm to Fork strategy, the commission aims to cut the use of chemical pesticides by 50 percent and to reduce fertilisers by 20 percent by 2030.

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