With the license of Glyphosate, a reportedly carcinogenic herbicide used in Monsanto’s Roundup, set to expire in December, the European Commission had put the question of renewal to the member states. After months of deliberation, the German Agriculture Minister Schmidt (CSU) yesterday surprisingly changed his mind and voted for the five-year renewal, against the express wishes of Environment Minister Hendricks (SPD) and the German federal government.
The decision is a major setback for both the environment and democracy the European Union. On July 3rd, a European Citizens’ Initiative to ban the use of Glyphosate in the EU handed in 1’320’517 signatures to the Commission. For an ECI to warrant a response from the European Commission, organisers need to gather over one million signatures in at least seven member states. The “Ban Glyphosate” ECI had managed to do that in a record five months and was awaiting response from the Commission.
The successful ECI had also prompted a debate in the European Parliament just a month ago, which saw the Parliament adopt a resolution rejecting a ten-year renewal of the Glyphosate licence and demanding a complete ban by 2022.
“By renewing the Glyphosate licence as is, without any provisions for a phase-out, the Member States and the Commission are side-lining citizens all over Europe and bypassing their representatives in the European Parliament,” said Daniel Schily, board member of Democracy International, “We demand that the Commission listen to the people of the EU. Therefore, we propose that the ECI is followed by a European-wide referendum on the use of Glyphosate.”
Democracy International has campaigned for a strong European Citizens’ Initiative since 2003. The ECI finally came into existence in 2012 and, while it is the first transnational tool of direct democracy, remains deeply flawed. A truly direct democratic instrument, should always lead to a clear policy outcome and provide a mechanism for appeal. Best practices suggest that successful initiatives, supported by the parliament, but opposed by the Commission or the Council, should be followed up by a European-wide, popular vote on the issue.
“The message sent by the Commission is a tragedy. It says that back chamber politics and lobbying will always trump public concerns over health and the environment. The best way forward would be to initiate a transnational referendum on the Glyphosate issue, making the European citizens the true rulers of their Union,” Bruno Kaufmann, board member of Democracy International stated, “Such a premier poll is proposed to be put on the ballot alongside the next European Parliament elections in the spring of 2019. This will strengthen the roll of the ECI and support the creation of a European Public Sphere at a crucial time in our history.”