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26th Sep 2021

EU receives anti-GMO petition amid raging legal battle

Environmental groups Greenpeace and Avaaz have handed the European Commission a petition with the signatures of over one million EU citizens, calling for a ban on GMO crops until a new scientific body is set up to assess their impact. Behind the scenes however, a battle is raging over the document's eligibility under the EU's new citizens' initiative procedure (ECI).

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso refused to receive the document on Thursday (9 December), sending the EU's health commissioner John Dalli instead. Mr Dalli welcomed the petition, but warned that the ECI had not been fully set up yet, drawing a question mark over the anti-GMO document.

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  • Commissioner Dalli speaks to the press after receiving the petition (Photo: Greenpeace)

"We have agreed to receive the petition today but at this point I can't commit on action taken by the commission," said Mr Dalli.

Greenpeace Europe chief Jorgo Riss said the commission could ill afford to ignore the document, born out of the commission's decision in March to grant the first EU GM cultivation approval in 12 years for the 'Amflora' potato.

"Over a million people across Europe have set the EU a democratic test - will the EU address the real concern people have about GM crops and food, or will it side with the chemical industry lobbyists controlling GM technology?" said Mr Riss.

"This is the first time that EU citizens have exercised their right and the commission has no political reason to reject the initiative," he added.

In an attempt to grant EU citizens a greater say over EU affairs, drafters of the Lisbon Treaty included a 'European citizens' initiative', under which one million citizens could petition the commission to take action in a particular area.

With the new rulebook in place since 1 December 2009, Greenpeace set about collecting the signatures earlier this year after EU approval for the GMO potato caused widespread alarm. The European Parliament and member states have yet to formally agree EU legislation setting up on the petition procedure however, leading the commission to brandish the anti-GMO initiative as illegitimate.

"Strictly speaking, they would have to do it all over again," commission administration spokesman Michael Mann told this website last month. "The Greenpeace view that the petition counts as the Lisbon Treaty is in place doesn't stand up to legal scrutiny."

The environmental group says an independent legal assessment supports their position.

"The omission by the European Parliament and the Council to adopt the implementing provisions ... does not affect the EU citizens to exercise their right," Professor Ludwig Kramer of ClientEarth concluded in an October legal opinion commissioned by Greenpeace.

MEPs reached an agreement with member states on Monday evening over the future shape of the citizens' initiative, with parliament securing a number of amendments to make the procedure more user-friendly for EU citizens.

The deal allows the full plenary of MEPs to vote on the package next week. Following member states approval, national governments will then have one year to transpose it into national law, meaning an official start date of late 2011, at the earliest.

Under the draft rules, the commission now has three months to decide whether to take any action following the Greenpeace petition. The EU institution is entitled to come forward with new legislative proposals but may also decide to do nothing.

In an attempt to break the current deadlock on GMOs, strongly supported by countries such as the Netherlands but banned in other member states such as Austria, the commission came forward with plans in July to partially re-nationalise GMO authorisation.

But the proposals have found little support among member states, leaving Europe as divided as ever over the controversial subject.

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