After approval extension: What happens next with glyphosate in Germany?

As of: November 17, 2023 12:33 p.m

Agriculture Minister Özdemir wants to take action against the further approval of glyphosate. But he doesn’t have many options if he wants to avoid a wave of lawsuits.

There was something bizarre about it. On the very day that Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir presents his organic strategy, the EU Commission decides that the controversial pesticide glyphosate can be used in the EU for another ten years.

This is a bitter blow for the minister and the Greens. They have been fighting for a ban on the broad-spectrum herbicide for years. Özdemir therefore immediately announced that he would now check everything and did not rule out a national ban or stricter rules for dealing with glyphosate.

A national ban could result in a wave of lawsuits

But going it alone at the national level is likely to be difficult. Özdemir’s CDU predecessor in office, Julia Klöckner, already issued a ban on glyphosate from 2024 and even wanted to enforce it independently of further approval at EU level. But it is questionable whether this will stand up in court. After all, an EU regulation determines which plant protection products may be used in the member states.

However, there is also a loophole in this EU regulation. According to this, a member state can also refuse to approve a plant protection product in its territory despite EU approval. But you need good arguments for this. For example, Germany would have to prove why glyphosate in fields in Brandenburg on the left of the Oder poses a higher risk to people and nature than in Polish fields on the right of the Oder.

Luxembourg had already tried this approach, but failed before the highest administrative court in the country. If Germany were to ban the use of glyphosate in this country, even though it is permitted under EU law, there would probably be a hail of lawsuits from several sides.

Bayer sued Luxembourgish Go it alone

One of the world’s largest producers of the pesticide, the powerful Bayer AG, had filed a lawsuit against the Luxembourg ban on glyphosate. Last year, the group earned more than 25 billion euros from its agricultural division alone. The herbicide business particularly contributed to the record result. Compared to the previous year, Bayer was able to increase sales by a whopping 44 percent. The company cites “price increases due to supply bottlenecks for products containing glyphosate” in the European market, among others, as the reason.

On the other hand, conventional farmers would probably also go to court. Many people swear by glyphosate and currently see no alternatives to it. The German Farmers’ Association, among others, spoke out against a ban in the European Union and warned of competitive disadvantages for EU farmers. A German go-it-alone approach could be seen as a disadvantage in European competition.

Özdemir can limit usage

However, the Minister of Agriculture has room for maneuver when designing the Plant Protection Application Ordinance. This already prohibits the use of glyphosate in water protection or nature reserves. It also stipulates that the herbicide may only be used within ten meters of water. Özdemir could tighten these rules even further and remove exceptions.

This would also be possible without the consent of the FDP. According to the Plant Protection Act, Özdemir only has to coordinate with his party colleagues in the cabinet, Environment Minister Steffi Lemke and Economics Minister Robert Habeck, as well as Ministers Hubertus Heil and Karl Lauterbach from the SPD, in order to change the regulation. Approval in the Federal Council, especially from the Union, is likely to be significantly more difficult.

Four years ago, the state chamber even supported the glyphosate ban initiated by Klöckner. Since then, the Union’s attitude has changed significantly. The deputy chairman of the Union parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Steffen Bilger, is even calling on the Federal Minister of Agriculture to repeal the glyphosate ban issued by his own CDU-led federal government.

Cooperation at EU level

When looking for solutions, Özdemir also seems to be hoping for his European partners. He repeatedly emphasizes the close coordination with France. The French government, like the German government, abstained when there was no majority in the appeals committee for the EU Commission’s proposal to allow glyphosate for another ten years.

The fact that the Commission ignored this was likely to be seen as an affront by more than just the French. Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Malta and the Netherlands also abstained. Austria, Croatia and Luxembourg even voted against it. Özdemir has therefore announced that he will look beyond national borders when dealing with glyphosate.

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