The Brief: To ban or not to ban, that is the question

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Deciding whether to ban certain weedkillers or limit the use of potentially dangerous ingredients is a poisoned chalice for legislators. That’s why it was easy for MEPs to go along with popular demand. After all, all they had to do was agree or disagree with the Commission.

Farmers watched with interest as European lawmakers met in plenary to decide on a whole raft of agricultural issues, including the glyphosate licence, carcinogens in fertilisers and GMO crops.

Member state experts will vote tomorrow on whether to accept the Commission’s proposal for a 10-year-extension of glyphosate’s licence. MEPs made some noise ahead of time by backing a non-binding resolution calling for restrictions on the weedkiller from next year ahead of a full ban in 2022.

For once, the Parliament’s inability to propose legislation must seem like a blessing. Today, MEPs made the popular choice on the three issues and now it’s up to others to deal with the inevitable fallout. Pesticides and GMOs are so controversial that no one will come out of this happy.

It seems like such an open-and-shut-case though: renowned experts warn that something we put on our food probably causes cancer, so let’s stop using it by making it illegal. Simple, right? Afraid not.

The layers of conflicting scientific advice, accusations of undue influence on researchers, claims of lack of viable alternatives and a Daedalian legislative process that makes EU journalists weep, make glyphosate perhaps the most complex legislative issue in Europe.

It is certainly one of the most sensitive to report on.

MEPs also voted to put a limit on cadmium in fertiliser. This plays really well on paper: noble politicians saving farmers in particular from toxic metal poisoning and curbing soil pollution.

But today’s vote was labelled by some as a “sad day” and “not a great hour” for agriculturists because it puts cheap import fertiliser off limits and affects EU agricultural competition at a time when farmers are already struggling.

Ditto for certain GMO crops, the imports of which were also banned today. Ultimately, everyone is innocent until proven guilty (or non-carcinogenic until proven otherwise) but the permissible shadow of a doubt splits people into two distinct camps.

There is a solution buried in these impenetrable issues. Independent, thoroughly-sourced data, analysed through double-blind peer review kills vested interests and reveals the truth. A proper baseline has to be set.

Too many laws and proposals have been built without it, leading to the kinds of messes we now find ourselves in.

A lack of information is undoing so many well-meaning initiatives, from anti-mercury efforts and the Sustainable Development Goals to climate action.

Perhaps there are simply too many vested interests around these issues and it will take a willing martyr somewhere in the maze of EU institutions just to make a decision and then be fed to the wolves. To ban or not to ban, that is the question.

The Roundup

The Estonian presidency brokered a compromise on the posted workers’ directive. Poland, Hungary won’t be happy, but most Eastern states have been won over.

This is Macron’s first victory on his way to reform the EU – one box checked, many left to tick. Will he manage?

Looking back to 30 years of Sakharov prize, we find some freedom icons and unknown heroes.

Franco-German combo still has potential, for sure. But 2017 is not 1957, writes Christel Zunneberg, wishing Berlin would “go Dutch”.

Could a pacified central Asia become a buffer zone between China, Russia and the West? Dr Pflüger of Kings College London is convinced. Watch out interview

The EU parliament wants to slash Turkey’s pre-accession funds, to send a clear political message to Erdogan.

As the EU sits at many negotiating tables to strike trade deals with Japan, Mercosur, Australia and New Zealand, calls for labour rights and environmental clauses increase. Anti-dumping or protectionism?

Leaked NATO report reveals huge problems with logistics that could threaten the alliance’s ability to respond to threats, reports Der Tagesspiegel.

But fear not – the EU’s biggest policy taboo is about to be overcome, writes Steffen Stiehle of EURACTIV Germany – we are en route for a common defence fund.

EU member states pledged funds to prosecute hackers outside the bloc and to support each other in case of major attacks, in the war on cybersecurity breaches.

Passengers’ rights are on the European Court of Auditors’ agenda, as it looks into “grey areas and gaps in legislation” across rail, bus, sea and air travel.

Green activists decry the parliament’s vote on supporting bioenergy, which they claim will incentivise tree felling and increase GHG emissions.

France is grappling with a butter shortage and a price hike – say bye to croissants for a while, as the EU is bound for a crisis by Christmas, butter chiefs warned.

Oxfam chief Winnie Byanyima on NGO executives’ wages, media attacks and lack of trust for charities. Read our interview with Winnie Byanyima.

Look out for…

Member states will vote tomorrow on the renewal of Glyphosate’s license, after today MEPs voted to phase it out.

Views are the author’s

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