Commission defends pesticide reduction law against pushback from EU countries

“We are fully committed to presenting a proposal to change course on pesticides,” Kyriakides told the meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Monday. [STEPHANIE LECOCQ/EPA-EFE]

Food safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides stood by the EU executive’s plans to revise the EU’s pesticide framework but stopped short of committing to a date to publish its proposal after 10 member states wrote a letter expressing “serious doubts”.

“We are fully committed to presenting a proposal to change course on pesticides,” Kyriakides told the meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Monday (13 June) in Luxembourg, adding that working to reduce pesticide overuse meant “protecting human health, the environment and biodiversity.”

However, the Commissioner refused to commit to a date for publishing the proposal, which was originally tabled in March, but was pushed back in light of the onset of Russia’s war on Ukraine and tentatively pencilled in for 22 June.

While Kyriakides made it clear that the Commission intends to go through with the proposal as soon as possible, she told reporters after the meeting that the Commission had only committed to tabling the draft before the summer break, despite speaking only one week ahead of the presentation of the expected proposal. 

The review of the EU’s legislation on pesticides comes as part of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the bloc’s flagship food policy, which sets out targets to slash both the amount of pesticides used and the risk they pose in half by 2030.

According to leaked drafts of the Commission’s proposal, the revised regulation is set to make these targets legally binding at the EU level.

EU holds pesticide reduction, biodiversity preservation proposals amid Ukraine war

The European Commission has pushed back the tabling of its ‘Nature protection package’, which included the proposal to slash the use and risk of chemical pesticides in half by 2030 and nature restoration targets which aim at halting biodiversity loss in Europe.

Pushback from member states

Her reluctance to commit to a date comes on the back of staunch criticism from 10 member states, who put forth a non-paper raising concerns over the EU executive’s ambition to enshrine binding pesticide reduction targets in its proposal for a revision of the EU’s sustainable use regulation (SUR).

In the document, the countries, led by Austria and including Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia expressed “serious doubts” about the leaked drafts of the proposal.

“Given the significance of the subject matter, the reservations expressed by a number of member states require further discussions with a view to ensuring a proportional EU-wide approach,” the document reads.

A source from the Austrian agriculture ministry told EURACTIV that, in their perspective, there is a lack of subsidiarity and attention to EU countries’ different starting points when it comes to the amount of pesticides used.

For Austria, “the strategies and measures to reduce pesticide use should be based on scientific research and show consideration for national specificities and progress already made” by member states, they explained.

The countries also voiced reservations over some of the technicalities on how reductions targets are calculated, saying the indicators proposed by the Commission did not take into account all relevant factors.

Concerns ‘already addressed’

However, while Kyriakides told reporters that she had “taken note” of some of the concerns raised by member states, she pushed back on the key points raised in the 10 countries’ non-paper.

“When making our proposal, (…) we will ensure that we do not propose one size fits all solutions,” she stressed, promising that the Commission would take into account the historical progress achieved in different member states as well as other national specificities.

“I believe that much of what is in the proposal already addressed the concerns raised by the member states,” she concluded.

LEAK: Commission to propose EU-binding reduction targets for pesticides

The European Commission plans to set an EU-binding 50% pesticide reduction target by 2030 but leave member states free to set their own national targets, according to a leaked proposal to revise the EU’s pesticide framework obtained by EURACTIV.

[Edited by Natasha Foote/Nathalie Weatherald]

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