April 13. 2024. 5:46

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Commission turns down petition for more pesticide cuts, sticks to its plans

The European Commission has ruled out tweaking its reform of the EU’s plant protection products framework after a citizens’ initiative demanded more ambitious targets in curbing synthetic pesticide use.

On Wednesday (5 April), the Commission responded to a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) signed by more than one million people, which requested EU-binding targets to reduce synthetic pesticides by 80% in 2030 and a total ban by 2035.

Citizen initiatives allow petitions that reach the one million signatures threshold to be discussed by the European Commission, which can then decide to put forward a legislative proposal on the matter.

A Commission spokesperson said that although they welcome the initiative, other “major initiatives” have been taken by the EU executive to address the issue referring to the proposed reform of sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR), which sets a 50% pesticide reduction target by 2030.

“This is why, rather than proposing new legislative acts, the priority is for co-legislators to find swift agreements on the already submitted legislative proposals and translate the citizens’ ambition into law,” the spokesperson told reporters.

In its reply to the ECI proponents, the Commission included findings of their impact assessment, which show that “a 70-80% reduction target would have the greatest positive impacts on human health and the environment”.

However, the EU executive said it considers the proposed 50% pesticide reduction “the most appropriate and balanced option to protect the environment and human health and to avoid severe consequences on food affordability”, citing economic costs for farmers and consumers.

Citizen-backed petition to ban pesticides by 2035 divides EU lawmakers

A petition led by citizens and NGOs calling for a ban on synthetic pesticides left a bittersweet taste after being delivered to the European Parliament in a ‘lively panel’ joined by the Commission, agriculture and environment lawmakers.

For the ECI proponents, the initiative is “far from over” and they said they would continue to urge the European Parliament and member states to show more ambition in light of the widespread and negative effects of synthetic pesticides.

“There is more and more scientific proof of the dire state of biodiversity and the danger of pesticides to our health. We can have no food production without biodiversity,” said Martin Dermine from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, which belongs to the NGO coalition behind the ECI.

“We will closely watch the follow-up,” he said, adding that “with the upcoming EU elections, politicians will have to show that they serve the common interests for health, clean water, good food and biodiversity and to strengthen farmers’ position in the food chain”.

This follows the Commission’s agreement last month to provide ‘additional input’, in response to reluctant EU member states demanding a new impact assessment on the SUR proposal.

The European Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI), on the other hand, will vote on the executive’s contentious plan to slash pesticide use in July and their counterparts in the environment committee (ENVI) in September.

Sarah Wiener, green MEP and ENVI rapporteur on the file, welcomed the Commission’s call for co-legislators to swiftly adopt and implement the SUR proposal.

“If the Commission has to withdraw the SUR now, the window of opportunity to act on this topic will remain closed for many years to come. We cannot afford that,” she said.

However, she also added that it is “crucial to push for a higher reduction target for more dangerous pesticides” – the so-called ‘candidates for substitution’.

“This is feasible and at least partially fulfils the citizens’ demands for an 80% reduction of all chemical pesticides, which the Commission considered unrealistic in its response,” Wiener said.

MEPs agree EU pesticide reduction plan votes, pushing final deal after 2023

European lawmakers finally agreed on a timeline to vote on their position on the EU’s plan to slash pesticides. But this leaves a final deal on the contentious file unlikely in 2023, as confirmed by a leaked draft of the Belgian presidency priorities.

To seal a final compromise deal, the European Parliament will have to negotiate with EU27 ministers, who have already been accused of dragging their feet on the file after requesting a further impact assessment.

This delay and the Parliament’s agreed timeline will likely see discussions between EU lawmakers pushed into 2024.

This would probably mean that a deal would not be sealed before this Commission’s mandate expires in October 2024 – a timeline supported by a leaked draft of the Belgian EU Council presidency’s priorities for the first half of 2024.

The draft, seen by EURACTIV, suggests the Belgians are gearing up for debates on the SUR well into their presidency.

The SUR is listed under the ‘Commission work programme and other important files’ section of the Belgian presidency’s expected environment and agricultural priorities.

A Parliament source previously explained to EURACTIV that there is an “unofficial” cut-off point for inter-institutional talks around February 2024, meaning that negotiations cannot continue on files beyond this point.