The Member States’ Long and Winding Road to Partial Regulatory Autonomy in Cultivating Genetically Modified Crops in the EU

Member States wishing to cultivate genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have always been a minority in the EU. Only eight out of twenty-seven have experienced transgenic agriculture. Throughout the years, the opposition to this form of farming has become a genuinely transnational phenomenon given that many regions of different European countries declared themselves GMO-free. Moreover, Member States such as Austria, Luxembourg, Greece, Poland and, most recently, Hungary officially banned transgenic agriculture within their borders altogether. France and Germany suspended the cultivation of GM maize MON 810, respectively in 2008 and 2009.
In addition, the EU has previously authorized only two GM crops: GM maize MON 810 (authorization renewed in 2008) and GM potato EH92-527-1 (2010), known as the ‘Amflora potato.’ The cautious approach towards transgenic farming is also witnessed by the long and contested process of renewal of the permit to cultivate GM maize MON 810 and the issue of the authorization for the Amflora potato. All this shows that in the EU there has always been a very limited tolerance for transgenic agriculture.

The opposition to transgenic farming has always had an intergovernmental flavour. The Council started to seriously question the cultivation of GMOs for its impact on ‘health, environment and ecosystems’ in December 2008. In this context the Member States emphasise the need to improve the implementation of the legal framework on GMOs and set out suggestions to this effect. In March 2009 the Council opposed, for the second time, the Commission proposal to repeal Austria and Hungary’s bans on the cultivation of GM maize MON 810, despite the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) re-iterated opinion that the concerned crops did not create adverse effects on the environment more than their conventional counterparts. The time was ripe for the Member States to put forward radical requests to the Commission to change the decision making in this field. Indeed, at the Environment Council of June 2009 a front of 13 Member States, led by Austria,3 argued that individual countries should be enabled to prohibit or restrict the cultivation of authorized GMOs throughout the whole territory or in certain areas. In addition, they advocated that ‘socioeconomic criteria’ could justify a partial or total ban of the cultivation of GMOs. This suggestion brought to the fore the widespread feeling shared by many EU members that decisions on GMOs should not be taken exclusively on the basis of scientific evidence.

The Member States’ request is the culmination of the fierce and consistent opposition to GM crops by countries such as Austria, Poland and Italy. This small group of countries succeeded in convincing the Member States that were not in principle against the cultivation of transgenic crops to join their battle.

Invoking the principle of subsidiarity, whose influence on EU decision making has been strengthened by the Lisbon Treaty, ‘the group of 13’ requested the Commission to submit a proposal designed to entrust to Member States the authority to take decisions on the cultivation of GM crops. This is akin to the situation, envisaged by declaration n. 18 of the Lisbon Treaty, which explains how the EU institutions may cease exercising their powers within the realm of their shared competences. For example, the Council may request that the Commission repeals a legislative act, to better ensure respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

Copyright: © Lexxion Verlagsgesellschaft mbH
Source: Issue 02/2013 (Juni 2013)
Pages: 15
Price: € 41,65
Autor: Sara Poli

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