German cabinet fails to reach an agreement on insect protection

Agriculture and Environment Ministers Julia Klöckner (CDU) and Svenja Schulze (SPD) presenting the Action Programme for Insect Protection in 2019. Since then, there has been little agreement between the two ministries. [EPA-EFE | Felipe Trueba]

Due to continuing divisions between the Agriculture and Environmental Ministries, the German government was unable to reach an agreement on the draft of a Insect Protection Act (ISG) on Wednesday (16 December). EURACTIV Germany reports.

Passed by the cabinet in September 2019, Germany’s “Action Programme for Insect Protection” envisioned a complete ban on glyphosates by the end of 2023 with a “systematic reduction strategy” in place for 2020.

However, deep disagreements between Julia Klöckner’s Agriculture Ministry (BMEL) and Svenja Schulze’s Environment Ministry (BMU) have pushed the negotiations into 2021, after the two failed to reach an agreement on a common draft during Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. 

A BMU spokesperson gave mid-January as a deadline to reach a decision, adding this is “where things get very knotty in the cabinet.”

The two ministries disagree on the implementation of stream buffers. Using the Water Resources Act, the BMU wants to ban the use of pesticides within 10 metres of streams, which the agriculture ministry has thus far opposed.

The Industry Association Agrar (IVA) has called for a 5 metres limit in a position paper from December, calling the 10-metre distance “disproportionate.”

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BMEL proposal generates controversy

The dispute was also fuelled by Klöckner’s latest proposal for the law, which was released two days ahead of the cabinet meeting, following criticism from the BMU about a lack of input from their ministry. 

“Our goal is to counteract the decline in biodiversity and especially insects. And at the same time to ensure that plants and crops can be protected from pests,” Klöckner told the German Press Agency (dpa). 

In principle, BMEL’s plan would restrict the use of insect-killing pesticides in many areas. “The use of glyphosate is to be banned in principle on arable land and grassland,” the ministry told Berlin newspaper die tageszeitung. Additionally, it calls for the banning of common weed killers in private gardens as well as bee-killing pesticides used in orchards.  

However, BMEL’s draft quickly came under fire from environmental groups. WWF Nature Conservation Director, Christoph Heinrich, called it a “weak proposal.”  The NGO cited language in the plan saying that it would limit glyphosates to “to the extent necessary” provided that other strategies were “not suitable or reasonable.”

“These exceptions offer sufficient loopholes to justify an almost unhindered use of glyphosate in the future,” the WWF wrote in a press release.

One point of contention is where these pesticides are allowed. While it was initially planned to ban these chemicals in all protected areas (roughly 10% of Germany’s agricultural land), the new rules would allow for their use in conservation areas established under the EU Habitats Directive as well as bird sanctuaries. This would narrow the protected areas down to 1.7%. 

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Ongoing dispute

The lack of agreement on a draft for the ISG is the latest act in a long-standing dispute between Klöckner and Schulze, going well beyond the topic of insect protection.

Klöcker exacerbated the difficult working relationship with a letter to the Head of the Chancellery Helge Braun (CDU) in mid-November in which she claimed that the BMU is ignoring her ministry’s objections in their work on insect protection. “An appropriate consideration of the legitimate concerns of agriculture is not guaranteed in this approach,” she wrote. 

A subsequent internal memo from the BMU called Klöckner’s letter “a distortion of the actual total blockade,” according to a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, adding Klöckner had prevented “any progress in the legal protection of insects and in the restriction of harmful pesticides.”

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