Progress for pesticides policy in Europe

The latest proposed piece of regulation to add to Europe's growing body of environmental legislation made it over an important hurdle this week but was also diverted down an unexpected political corridor.

The proposed Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides was given general approval by the Council of Ministers which defends the interests of individual states, but the ministers declined to thrash out the detail of the legislation, saying that should be left to their colleagues in agricultural departments.

This will be seen as a mixed blessing by environmentalists keen to see tighter regulation of pesticides as, on the one hand, it means the thematic strategy has passed a potential obstacle but, on the other, sees the date it is likely to come into effect slip back as another round of debate is added to the time table.

The proposed legislation would update rules from 1991 and hope to encourage a more considered, environmentally-sensitive approach to pesticide use.

Among its aims would be to tighten environmental and health criteria for approving pesticides for use in the EU, streamline the approval process so it would take a maximum of two years, rather than the current four to six.

It also aimed to reduce tax breaks for farmers and encourage them to use less pesticide by asking member states to charge full VAT on pesticides. This particular point was not discussed by the council.

The European Commission expressed disappointment at this and also pointed out that the main focus of the legislation was the environment, not agriculture and so in its view it was wrong to give the final decision to farming ministers alone.

“I would strongly recommend that progress made on both proposals should be presented in both Council formations, Environment and Agriculture, in June,” said Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas.

“This will allow us to ensure consistency between the legislative proposals of the Thematic Strategy and existing environmental legislation, in particular regarding water, waste, birds and habitat.”

Commissioner Dimas also welcomed the useful public debate on the thematic strategy and on the proposed directive on the protection of soils.

David Gibbs

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