No double standards in Aarhus, EEB demands

Environment Ministers in the EU have been urged to refuse a negotiation mandate to the Commission on GMOs and public participation by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

The EU environmental council is currently in the process of debating the final phase of negotiations on amending the Aarhus Convention, which gives the public power to influence key environmental legislation and policy making, so that it would include European citizens' rights to public participation in decisions made about GMOs.

This would include decisions on the deliberate releases on GMOs in agriculture, placing genetically modified products on the market and the contained use of GMOs.

Most of the European community has already ratified the Aarhus Convention (see related story), and the six remaining Member States that have yet to do so are currently in the process. However, the current Convention does not include the right to public participation in matters concerning GMOs, and negotiations to remove this exception have been in place since 2002.

"The negotiation process has been very hard, as the EU Member States were divided and had decided they wanted to come to agreement amongst themselves before involving the other Parties of the Convention," EEB secretary general John Hontelez explained. "As a result, 14 Parties that are outside the EU, most of them clearly demanding an international arrangement they could use at home, were left in the cold."

In a letter to Ministers, the EEB accused them of "supporting double standards in public participation" and stated that "environmental democracy should [not] be sacrificed for commercial and trade interests".

France and the Commission are the real hard liners currently fighting any Aarhus Convention interference with their internal and global GMO politics, and have now convinced a majority of Member States to join them.

Only Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Italy are now likely to oppose the Commission's mandate, according to the EEB, which would be too few to block it, but the organisation says the mandate is unacceptable because:

  • Its first option is to prevent any change in the Convention, leaving GMOs out of the scope of the public participation and access to justice pillars
  • Its fall back option is to leave an arrangement on public participation with the Cartagena Protocol, which is not at all the best place to discuss the kind of progressive agreements that the Aarhus Convention Parties have agreed on for other types of environmentally related decisions
  • In any case it wants to prevent any link between public participation and the right of access to justice in the case of non-compliance with this right, effectively degrading the "right" to public participation to that of a "privilege".

    "What are we to think of the government of Sweden, the cradle of open society; of the German government with its Green Environment and Agriculture Ministers; or of the governments of countries such as Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Malta and Hungary, all know for being critical of GMOs," Mr Hontelez questioned.

    "Do they all really want to be co-responsible for giving such preferential treatment to the introduction of GMOs to a wider Europe?"

    By Jane Kettle

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