Thursday

15th Nov 2018

Juncker's rules on GMOs going nowhere soon

  • 'It is not right that when EU countries cannot decide among themselves whether or not to ban the use of glyphosate in herbicides, the Commission is forced ... to take a decision,' said Juncker in 2016 (Photo: European Commission)

Two years ago, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker vowed to change the rules relating to the approval process of pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

These substances, after receiving a scientific go-ahead, are put in front of committees of member states' representatives, but these often do not reach a qualified majority.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The commission is then left with no other choice but to approve the substance, despite popular opposition.

"It is not right that when EU countries cannot decide among themselves whether or not to ban the use of glyphosate in herbicides, the Commission is forced by Parliament and Council to take a decision," said Juncker on 14 September 2016.

"So we will change those rules, because that is not democracy," he noted.

The Luxembourgian commission chief made his 2016 promise in his annual State of the European Union speech - another one is coming up next week.

But two years since then, Juncker is nowhere near seeing a change in those rules adopted.

The actual proposed legislation to make Juncker's wish happen, was published in February 2017.

It concerned four "targeted amendments" of the EU's regulation on comitology, the decision-making process that involves the commission and member state committees.

The comitology method is a quicker one than the regular lawmaking method, which requires approval by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, where member state diplomats and ministers meet.

But the comitology regulation cannot be changed via comitology.

To change the regulation that contains the rules of comitology, the commission needs to have both the parliament and the council on board.

And in particular the council is not at all convinced of the commission's four amendments.

The council's legal service produced an opinion about the proposals last March. While most of the document was not published, it was referred to in a progress report on 15 June.

That report, drawn up by the then-Bulgarian presidency of the council, said that there was no majority among member states on any of the four amendments.

The first proposed change was that if a committee was unable to reach agreement on the approval of a GMO or other substance, the issue would then be elevated to a meeting of ministers.

"Following the conclusions drawn by the CLS [Council Legal Service] in its opinion of 2 March 2018 the vast majority of member states expressed positions against this element of the proposal," said the presidency report.

The second amendment involved a change in the comitology voting rules - excluding from the count towards a qualified majority those delegations not present or those that abstained.

A majority of member states was opposed, but some proposed to look at alternatives. However, suggestions subsequently proposed by the Bulgarians were not accepted.

"Therefore, the presidency provisionally concluded that there was not sufficient support for this amendment," it said.

The same conclusions were drawn about the two other amendments proposed by the commission.

On 1 July, Austria took over the rotating six-month council presidency from Bulgaria.

"The Austrian presidency is currently exploring ways how to continue constructively with this file," a spokeswoman told EUobserver.

She added that Austria did not intend to propose a formal rejection of the file.

Meanwhile, the amendments have also been criticised by the European Parliament (EP), albeit less uniformly.

So far, five EP committees have produced opinions of the proposed amendments.

Some opposed the amendment scrapping the option to abstain.

"The change in the voting rules seems inspired by bringing about certain statistical effects rather than increasing member states' responsibility," said Green MEP Pascal Durand, on behalf of the parliament's committee on constitutional affairs.

"Member state representatives may have valid reasons to abstain when voting," he added.

The five opinions will be followed by a text from the legal affairs committee, which will form the basic mandate for negotiations with the council.

Because before Juncker's wish can come true, a compromise will have to be found between the desired texts of the parliament and the council.

Considering the current lack of any majority in council, this may take a while.

Glyphosate and the hot potato

Last year, the drama of a 'no opinion' in the committee lead to delays in the process of renewing the controversial herbicide glyphosate.

In the end, Germany swung the vote, when then agriculture minister Christian Schmidt went against the wishes of chancellor Angela Merkel and supported a renewal.

An EU diplomat from a traditionally GMO-sceptic country explained in 2015 why member states liked the current system.

"I've always wondered how we managed to get the commission to agree to such a system in the first place. It probably sounded like a good idea at the time. Now they are sick and tired of the blame every time," he said.

"It's the proverbial hot potato. Any volunteers for a hot potato?", he said.

Brussels wants EU states to share flak for GMO approvals

European Commission proposes changes to the little-known but often used comitology procedure, which results in deadlocks whenever controversial issues like genetically modified organisms are on the table.

Commission and council dig in on GMO opt-outs

The European Commission and the EU's national governments pass each other the buck on who should move first on a heavily-criticised proposal on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

EU glyphosate vote hits German coalition

Chancellor Merkel disowned her agriculture minister over his decision to back a renewal of the weedkiller's licence as the issue pits Social Democrats against Christian Democrats ahead of coalition talks.

News in Brief

  1. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  2. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May
  3. Denmark blocks Tanzania aid over homophobic crackdown
  4. Second UK cabinet minister resigns over Brexit deal
  5. UK Brexit secretary quits morning after deal agreed
  6. Romanian MPs call for national 'Magnitsky Act'
  7. Tusk: Brexit summit on Sunday 25 November
  8. Full text of Brexit withdrawal agreement published

Opinion

Dodgy regime lobbying is below the EU's radar

In Brussels, PR professionals and lobbying consultants are working for some of the world's most autocratic regimes. And we have no way of knowing for sure who they are, how much they are paid, or what they are up to.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  2. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  3. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  4. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  5. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  6. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM put Orban on spot
  7. How the 'EU's Bank' fails to raise the bar on accountability
  8. Knives out on all sides for draft Brexit deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us