Parliament narrowly adopts pesticide ban for ‘ecological areas’

Tractor spraying field with insecticide. [Aqua Mechanical/Flickr]

The European Parliament on Wednesday (14 June) narrowly endorsed a ban on the use of pesticides on arable land set aside for nature conservation, prompting environmental groups to call for a rethinking of how the bloc’s multi-billion agricultural policy is decided.

Right-wing political forces in the European Parliament failed to block a European Commission proposal to ban the use of pesticides on “ecological focus areas“.

Under the approved legislation, farmers who receive subsidies from the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for improving biodiversity on land set aside for nature conservation will no longer be allowed to spray pesticides there.

Farmers with arable land exceeding 15 hectares must ensure that at least 5% of their land is set aside for nature improvement. This include measures that affect biodiversity such as field margins, fallow land, buffer strips and hedges and trees.

It is up to national governments to draw up a list of ecological focus areas, based on a common EU definition, and taking national circumstances into account.

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Before the final vote in parliament, 363 MEPs had backed a resolution seeking to dismiss the pesticide ban, just 13 short of the 376 required for a majority.

“This no-brainer ban was given the green light by the European Parliament today despite an attempt from MEPs on the agriculture committee to reject it at all costs,” the Brussels-bassed EEB, a network of environmental groups, said in a statement.

“We need to break the stranglehold these MEPs have on the political process. A good start would be giving other committees more clout on the CAP, particularly as political negotiations on the future of the policy begin later this year,” said Faustine Bas-Defossez, EEB’s policy manager.

The CAP accounts for more than 40% of the EU’s entire annual budget.

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Proposal resisted by Conservatives

In February, the European Commission laid out plans to ban the use of pesticides in ecological focus areas, a proposal opposed by German conservative MEP Albert Dess (European People’s Party) and John Stuart Agnew from the UK Independence Party (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group-EFD).

In May, the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament led by these two MEPs voted to defend the continued use of pesticides in ecological focus areas and succeded to block the Commission’s proposal.

However, they failed to convince the necessary majority of MEPs voting in plenary.

How the parties voted

The vote was not a roll-call but EURACTIV understands that right-wing forces in Parliament (EPP, ECR and ENF) were united against the Commission’s proposal.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) was split and the “leftist progressive” coalition (Greens, European Left and Socialists) backed the ban on pesticide use.

However, Parliament sources told EURACTIV that the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese socialists did not follow the S&D line.

The main argument of the right-wing parties was that the Commission’s proposal was not “environmentally-sound” enough and put GMO-free protein cultivation at risk.

“In a way, it’s a case of an outrageous behaviour,” said Greenpeace activist Marco Contiero.

Albert Dess, the EPP group’s spokesman in the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee stressed, “With its proposal on the delegated act, the Commission is endangering the EU’s GMO-free protein cultivation and the associated EU protein strategy. As a result, the necessary feed must be imported from South America.”

S&D spokesperson on agriculture Eric Andrieu MEP said socialists showed once again that they stand for environmentally sensitive agriculture.

He called EPP’s arguments “tenuous” and “dangerous” and said that they totally ignored the fact that the ban aims primarily at protecting the health of the citizens and the environment.

Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer, Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems at the WWF's European Policy Office said, “Banning pesticide use on a small percentage of arable land will not impact overall agricultural production and is the right thing to do to bring back some of the farmland biodiversity we have been losing over the last decades. The EU Parliament's Committee on Agriculture tried to block this improvement over the last few months, showing clearly that they lack environmental awareness, and that they cannot be entrusted with full responsibility in future debates on the Common Agricultural Policy.”

Trees Robijns, Senior EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia said, ”Even if the majority of MEPs present in the European Parliament voted in favour of pesticides, nature still won. This vote, a brazen display of vested interests over public good, shows that a big part of MEPs are not listening to the hundreds of thousands of people who have repeatedly expressed their support for nature in recent EU public consultations.”

“Thanks to democratic safeguards, nature won despite MEP apathy. This vote was supposed to be a no-brainer and its result raises huge questions about the future process of reform the CAP,” she said.

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