[Update 11/12: The Parliament voted to reinstate environmental rationales for national bans and removed the absurd requirement that countries supplicate before the GMO-peddling corporations before instituting bans. It also mandated anti-contamination measures. The EP version of the law must now be negotiated with the Council’s pro-cartel version voted in June. The EP’s law doesn’t affect the pro-GMO regulatory “streamlining” momentum at the EFSA. This is merely a defensive action.]
In June the European Council (an executive committee of national ministers) fulfilled the wishes of the GMO cartel and the US government by voting for a new “subsidiarity” policy to replace the EU’s existing approval process for the cultivation of GMOs in Europe. As things are the European Commission’s EFSA (an unaccountable supranational bureaucracy) approves applications on a Europe-wide basis, but individual national governments are free to enact their own bans. Right now MON810 Bt maize is the only GMO approved for cultivation, but Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Italy, and Poland have banned it. Only in Spain is it grown on any significant acreage. (In 2014 DuPont/Dow’s 1507 stacked maize is becoming the second cultivation-approved GMO.)
This kind of federalism, really an upside-down federalism since it “allows” delegation of power from the top down, has only been grudgingly tolerated by the Commission. It has long been a target for the US government and the cartel, which want to gut Europe’s superior non-GMO agriculture and flood Europe with proprietary GMO seeds. This is a good example of how EU federalism, like any other such concept and practice, has no stable existence but is only agreed to by the corporations or assaulted by them depending upon whatever serves corporate power at the moment. Thus, as I’ve been pointing out for years, European GMO “subsidiarity” was originally talked up by the system as a safeguard: “Any national government is free to ban any GMO it chooses. Therefore there’s no reason for the EFSA’s approval procedure to be so strict, and it should be liberalized.” This argument was being made in favor of the approval of 1507 as recently as a year ago. Then there’s the obscene spectacle of the US promoting its subsidy-based planned economy Big Ag sector under the banner of “free trade” and railing against Europe’s alleged “trade barriers”. Again, no one actually believes in “free trade” or “protectionism” as values. Either of these are merely slogans and weapons to be used according to the power tactics of the moment. I call such examples might-makes-right mutabilities.
In spite of the “federalism” rhetoric, the Biotechnology Industry Association has long lobbied for Europe to change to its own Orwellian version of federalism, AKA “subsidiarity”. The US government has taken up the fight. The Commission has been ardent, and the bureaucratic campaign came together in 2014, leading up to the Council vote in June.
According to the proposal, countries will no longer be free to enact national bans when they choose and how they choose. Instead, each country would have to take action early in the bureaucratic approval process. A national government would have to request that the corporation exclude that country’s territory from its application. Only if the corporation refuses would the country then be allowed to enact its own ban. The technical criteria for a ban to be legally valid in the EU’s bureaucratic courts would also be tightened. It’s meant to set up a legalistic Catch-22. The member states would surrender their right to institute bans based on health or environmental rationales. These rationales would be surrendered completely to the EFSA’s discretion. Yet these are the only rationales which in theory are allowed under the WTO regime.
Meanwhile the member states would retain a right, under this policy, to enact bans based on socioeconomic, cultural, or planning grounds. But these are precisely the kind of policy rationales banned under WTO rules. Therefore the policy proposal is meant to take a roundabout route to gut the Precautionary Principle and national regulatory power over GMOs, and exalt the preemptive power of EFSA assessments. The revolving door EFSA is little more than a Monsanto division.
In addition to its structural aims, the policy is meant to be cumbersome to the point of impossibility. Instead of taking cultivation approvals on a case-by-case basis, a national government is supposed to track down every pending application, assess it in a hypothetical way, make a future-oriented decision, and formulate a request. And just who is supposed to do this: A bureaucracy which is naturally more likely to support the corporate project than a legislature which may be more responsive to the public good. And then there’s the fact that the government of a day is supposed to be able to tie the hands of its successors in perpetuity, if it fails to make the right “requests” and enact its bans within a narrow window of opportunity. (Needless to say this only works one way; any ban can always be rescinded by a later government.) Once again we see the fundamental hostility of the EC (and the US government) to democracy and to politics as such.
The policy is being bruited in terms familiar from big business rhetoric – this will “break the logjam”, will “streamline” regulation. Of course in reality the only logjam on economic innovation and productivity is that imposed by corporate oligopoly, most of all corporate agriculture’s attempt to enclose and calcify the agriculture and food sectors once and for all. The GMO onslaught is the culmination and final war to attain this enclosure and domination. The “subsidiarity” policy is intended to do exactly what I’ve been predicting about EU federalism since 2010: First open the floodgates to general EU cultivation approvals, then gut the state-level bans piecemeal.
(Meanwhile the TTIP if enacted is intended to make a clean sweep of all of this, replacing the whole WTO rigmarole with the leaner meaner NAFTA model of direct corporate legal weapons (in the form of ISDS) and systematic, permanent “regulatory coordination” across all government bureaucracies, forcing all of these to conform to standards set by corporate bureaucracy and to obey corporate directives. I won’t recap the TTIP here, but here’s my posts on it from earlier in 2014.
This week the European Parliament is scheduled to vote on subsidiarity. If it votes No it can gut the policy, or it can vote for a reformed version which could ameliorate the worst parts. Greenpeace issued a list of minimal reform demands, including:
*Restore the ability of member countries to enact bans on environmental grounds. [Greenpeace doesn’t mention public health/food safety grounds, although these too are critical.]
*Change the legal basis for the policy from the “internal market” section of the EU code to the environmental section.
*Confirm the right of countries to ban GMOs as such or groups of GMOs by crop or trait.
*Scuttle the formal position of corporations in the approval and banning process.
It seems to me it would be better to just scuttle the whole thing, but anything which delays the juggernaut is helpful, since time is running out for the cartel, just as it’s running out for humanity.