Oliver Moore: Regulation being ‘de-Europeanised’

The EU Organic regulation saga is a mirror of other developments at EU level.
Oliver Moore: Regulation being ‘de-Europeanised’

There has been a process of de-Europeanisation of legislation and power. The CAP reform and the more recent GM regulatory situation — whereby member states can opt-out or opt-in — both confirm this.

For internal EU affairs, the Council of Ministers are the most powerful of the three main legislative power blocks in Europe — the Commission, European Parliament and Council.

When recession and crisis hit the EU, the power of individual countries came to the fore; bilateral and trilateral meetings between member states took priority over the Commission and Parliament.

This partly explains the gap between what then Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos outlined as CAP reform in 2013 and what happened, which was business as usual. Member states phased in convergence at a pace that suited them, and chose their own ecological focus areas, and other exceptions.

Indeed, the so-called CAP simplification, spearheaded by current Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, and encouraged by member states’ ministers, ironically looks set to wipe away much ‘greening’ and to continue this process of de-Europeanisation via member states’ exemptions. This is ironic, as the last thing that the introduction of member-state exemptions does is simplify the rules. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The attempts to introduce a new Organic Regulation have been met with opposition by the EU’s organic farming representative organisation, IFOAM EU, and by Copa, the mainstream agri-business lobby. Both see the plans as barriers to growth for the organic farming sector.

One of the main spurs for these regulatory changes came from a large, EU-wide survey, in which EU citizen-consumers demanded stricter organic rules.

One consumer demand was a lower threshold for conventional inputs in organic produce. This, however, would threaten current organic producers and food businesses that are accidentally ‘contaminated’ with conventional inputs (eg, pesticide residues) in, for example, a warehouse that packs both conventional and organic produce.

Why should the ‘victim’ suffer for being impacted by an uncontrollable external source, and lose certification?

IFOAM EU have criticised the latest compromise text, which would “lead to less harmonisation than the status quo in the EU”.

Indeed, says IFOAM EU president, Christopher Stopes, “the consequence would be more bureaucracy and re-nationalisation of standards and less trust in the organic system”.

IFOAM also have threshold concerns: “The compromise on decertification thresholds, as it now stands, is actually worse than the status quo. Instead of increasing harmonisation of implementation, member states would have legally more options than before”, the IFOAM EU vice-president, Sabine Eigenschink, said.

Controls — that’s inspections and other methods of guaranteeing organic status — are also at issue. “It is not possible to combine a process-based system with one that is based on the evaluation of end products. Additionally, the implementation can differ among member states. This would lead to an uneven playing field for operators in the EU and beyond,” Eigenschink said.

Frequency of controls, too, is a concern for IFOAM EU. “Another unsatisfactory compromise is on the frequency of controls, as it would allow for member states to choose whether or not to apply annual inspection.

“Again, there will, inevitably, be a lack of harmonisation and an uneven playing field between farmers and operators in different countries. “Annual inspections are a cornerstone of consumer confidence and we are now faced with the risk of confusion and uncertainty”, said Jan Plagge, board member of IFOAM EU.

With Euroscepticism on the rise, expect more of this de-Europeanisation to occur, in organic regulation and elsewhere.

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