The European Parliament’s Greens group on Wednesday (12 February) threatened to table a motion of censure against the European Commission, because of its persistence to authorise a GM crop that was rejected by 19 member states and a parliamentary majority.
The Greens, other MEPs and environmental organisations were outraged by the Commission’s decision to move ahead and authorise the GMO maize crop Pioneer 1507, despite the opposition of 19 member states which voted against on Tuesday (11 February).
In a wave of reactions on Wednesday, Green MEPs poured scorn on the EU executive, calling its decision “a disdain for the democratic process”.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the co-president of the Greens group in Parliament, said in a statement: “if the Commission doggedly pursues the authorisation … we will launch a motion of censure in the European Parliament.”
Such a motion, which can be tabled by a minimum of 77 MEPs, could – after several steps – mount up to a resignation of the entire Barroso II commissioners team. According to the rules of procedure, at least one tenth of MEPs have to support the motion. If tabled, it is likely to make the agenda at the EP’s plenary session on 24-27 February.
A motion of censure requires approval by two-thirds of all 766 MEPs. An approval would also force the EU Commission to step down. This would be the first time in EU history: in 1999, the EU Commission led by Jacques Santer faced such a censure, but decided to resign before the motion was tabled.
Insiders in The Greens group described the threat as a “warning shot”, hoping the Commission would cave in and redraw its proposal. If not, they claim they will table the motion.
The Greens are also looking into legal action against the proposal, arguing that the EU executive changed its proposal before the Council vote, effectively sidestepping a second reading in the Parliament’s responsible committee.
Commission has 'no choice'
The row concerns the GM maize ‘Pioneer 1507’ developed jointly by DuPont and Dow Chemical, which will be approved by the European Commission following the inconclusive ministerial meeting on Tuesday (11 February).
19 member states – a record – objected to the proposal in an EU Council vote, while five voted in favour and four abstained.
- Against: France, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Poland, the Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia.
- In favour: Spain, the UK, Finland, Estonia and Sweden.
- Abstained: Germany, Portugal, Czech Republic and Belgium.
While countries made their positions known in a public debate, they stopped short of a formal vote. Under EU rules, a failure by member states to decide paves the way for automatic approval by the Commission.
“There is no choice” confirmed Roger Waite, the European Commission’s agriculture spokesperson. “The rules are clear”, he explained, “an abstention is equivalent to a vote in favour.”
GM crops are widely grown in the Americas and parts of Asia, but the European Union has only ever approved two other GM crops for commercial cultivation, a maize type and a potato, which was later blocked by a court.
However, in Europe, consumer opposition is strong and environmentalists cite scientific research that has highlighted the impact of a toxin released by 1507 on butterflies and moths.
In an opinion piece published on EURACTIV, Natalie Moll, the secretary-general of EuropaBio, biotech industry association, denounced the “politics over science” approach and regretted policymakers' distrust of GMOs, despite scientific evidence by EU agencies that they are safe.
GMO opponents argue it is up to democratically-elected representatives to decide. Bart Staes, environmental spokesperson for the Greens, said the Council’s failure to reach a majority “underlines that there is no democratic mandate for authorising this GMO maize variety”.