In order to get its message accross, I set up this blog to publish it anyway.
(I am the spokesperson of the Hungarian Permanent Representation to the EU, based in Brussels.)
A risk to fields and democracy
By Enikő Győri - Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Procedural quirks and wider, systemic failures have pushed Europe dangerously close to authorising a genetically modified seed through the backdoor. Member states must restore proper democratic control of the authorisation procedure, or risk contributing to a bumper harvest for Eurosceptic parties in the European elections.
The European Union's Council of Ministers – the body that brings together the 28 member states of the EU – is set to vote on Tuesday (11 February) on a European Commission proposal to authorise a genetically modified maize crop, Pioneer 1507, on the EU market.
As it has been the case before with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), member states are divided, but a clear majority believe that its environmental and health implications have not been properly investigated and that the Commission should not have extended the scope of the original authorisation to new types of uses. Member states are further alarmed by the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) assessment that Pioneer 1507 may harm butterflies and other “non-target” insects, aggravated by the company's refusal to co-operate in mitigating the risks for these innocent bystanders.
Alas, under the arcane rules of the EU's committee system, originally devised to provide greater efficiency in decision-making on technical matters, the Commission can easily sidestep the concerns of member states – even in an issue as politically sensitive as this. For, unless a super-majority rallies against the proposal, the Council will be deemed to have had “no opinion” and the Commission will go ahead with the authorisation, reneging on its 1999 pledge never to go against the predominant majority in sensitive issues.
This procedure is wrong in itself and should be checked; on occasion, its execution has also been legally flawed. Only two months ago, the EU's General Court annulled another GMO authorisation because the Commission had “significantly failed to fulfil its procedural obligations”.
This time, Council should rise to the challenge. Given that the Commission made light of the precautionary principle enshrined in the EU Treaty, member states should reject the request for authorisation, rather than just keeping fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong in the food chain. Rejection is the right thing to do not only legally and morally but also politically: the European Parliament recently voted 385 to 201 against authorization, reflecting the views of 61% of Europeans who do not support GMO foods. The logic of subsidiarity and democratic control dictates that member states follow suit.
Furthermore, to avoid similar conundrums in the future, we must fix our authorisation procedure which is broken: EFSA routinely finds each and every notification scientifically sound even when studies point to significant risks; the Commission goes ahead with the authorisation proposals instead of stopping them and investigating those risks; and member states are deprived of their right to decide which environmental and health risks are acceptable to them and which aren't. With member states calling for restoring subsidiarity to its rightful place, it is high time to restart negotiations on modifying the authorisation directive in a way that provides the necessary flexibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territories.
If we don't act now, it will be too late. Once the floodgates are opened, it is impossible to put the GMO genie back in the bottle. And if we allow a genetically modified seed to be authorised through the backdoor, it will damage the credibility and legitimacy of the entire European Union and risk contributing to a bumper harvest for EU sceptic parties at the May European elections.
Enikő Győri is Hungary's minister of state for European Union affairs.
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