Member states criticize European Commission’s pesticide reduction ambitions
“We cannot have long-term food security without food sustainability,” warned the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. But despite the rallying cry of Stella Kyriakides, who is responsible for the proposal to halve pesticide use in Europe by 2030, member states criticized the ambitious approach at a meeting of the Council of Europe. Agriculture (Agrifish) Monday.
A dozen Member States, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, expressed strong opposition to the draft plans unveiled at the end of June. They included Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as Spain, Portugal, Malta and Luxembourg. With such opposition, it would take little for a “blocking minority” to form within the Council, threatening the overall ambition of the legislative text.
The arguments were reminiscent of those put aheadd by agribusiness lobbies: pesticide reduction measures threaten food security in the European Union, restrictions are impossible without alternative products on the market and the idea that food shortages could increase following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Europe would find itself dependent on agricultural imports, further weakening its sovereignty, they said. The proposalaccording to many people, does not take national differences sufficiently into account, even though the European Commission has proposed derogations from the reduction targets for countries using fewer pesticides than the European average.
In addition, an overwhelming majority of Member States strongly criticized the ban on pesticides in so-called ‘sensitive’ areas, such as Natura 2000 protected areas. Slovenia pointed out that a significant part of its arable land is located in these sensitive areas. Spainmeanwhile, argued that such an approach would create difficult-to-manage pest reservoirs.
Others, including Ireland, warned of the administrative burden that could be generated by the regulation. A lack of scientific data and harmonized statistics at European level allowing comparisons between Member States was also noted as a key missing element that could shed light on the scope of the proposal. Many have also criticized the use of Common Agricultural Policy funds to support farmers in the transition to less use of plant protection products.
Pesticides are widespread throughout the EU. Some groups have argued that farmers’ ability to move away from it is nearly impossible as they increasingly rely on fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.
Draft regulations have been debated for years by various parties and, with sales in the EU worth nearly €12 billion a year, changing long-standing practices is proving a difficult task. . Investigate Europe last survey detailed the extent of the problem and the growing biodiversity crisis unfolding on the continent.
During the council meeting, Commissioner Kyriakides again underlined the need for regulation and told those member states who were against it to “continue to act as if nothing had happened”.
She added: “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we faced many calls to abandon the Green Deal, to abandon the Farm to Fork strategy and to postpone our targets. And now we hear the same after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The issue is a highly incendiary topic in EU circles and opposition to the settlement has grown in recent months. According to internal documents obtained by Investigate Europe on the Council working group’s closed-door discussions held on July 13, nearly 20 member states strongly opposed the European Commission’s proposal.
Troubled political waters likely lie ahead. The Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU has repeatedly indicated that it does not want to seek a political agreement during its 2022 mandate and that it will simply submit a progress report by the end of the year. An agreement in the Council is not expected before the first half of 2023 at the earliest.
In the European Parliament, Green MEP Sarah Wiener is responsible for the thorny piece of legislation. Her nomination suggests that Parliament will adopt a more ambitious position, although the Austrian MEP is certain to have to fight with conservative forces and some social democrats in the months to come.
One thing is certain, however: the more the positions of the two institutions diverge, the more difficult the ensuing negotiations will be and the longer it will take for a binding European regulation on pesticides to be finally agreed. And meanwhile, biodiversity in Europe continues to collapse.
Authors: Pascal Hansens and Harald Schumann
Publisher: Chris Matthews