EU showdown over GM crops
Luxembourg - European states accused by the European Commission of "flouting" WTO rules by banning genetically-modified crops on Thursday rejected commission moves aimed at speeding new authorisations.
A commission plan to allow states to decide individually whether to ban the cultivation of crops, albeit while staying within World Trade Organisation rules governing the movement of GM products, was torn to shreds by leading GM opponents, France, Germany and others.
"Let me be very clear, in France we refuse even to enter into this discussion," said France's Chantal Jouanno during talks between EU environment ministers in Luxembourg.
She said a commission proposal failed to deliver adequate assessments of the impact of GM agriculture on the environment, on human health, or on other socio-economic needs.
Until then, "it's off-limits", she snapped afterward.
Europe has got itself into a bind on GM, with two crops currently authorised - a maize strain for animal feed and a potato for paper-making - but decisions on another 15 are caught up in deadlock.
Countries and regions have subsequently banned cultivation unilaterally, or declared themselves GM-free, with products containing traces blocked at ports, which the commission says risks breaching WTO guidelines.
On top of that, a petition of more than a million signatures from citizens demanding a moratorium on GM crops further complicates the task. EU Health Commissioner John Dalli will "take delivery" from Greenpeace of the signatures collected.
But while admitting he "can't ignore it", Dalli stressed that the mechanics of the overall citizens initiative procedure in the EU have "not yet been decided on by the European parliament".
The initiative enabling more than a million EU citizens to force the bloc to listen to their voice is an innovation under the 2009 EU Lisbon Treaty.
It is the first time the bloc has faced such popular resistance since introducing the mechanism, and with Dalli's proposals also being criticised by Germany on the grounds they would mean the end of EU economic integration, the problems on a difficult dossier are piling up.
Germany's Norbert Rottgen warned that acceptance of GMs on a state-by-state basis would "mean de facto that we do not have a single market".
Likewise, he said the legal basis on which the commission was trying to face down WTO threats was "highly highly contentious".
Experts will deliver a legal verdict on October 21, while Dalli will release reports on environmental, health and socio-economic impacts, meeting "all of the issues France raises by the end of the year".
Only the Netherlands - a firm backer of GM agricultural innovation - gave Dalli its solid backing on the core issues at stake.
While the commission tangles with a "cacophony of policy" across Europe, even states like Britain have said they will go with the prevailing wind.