Germany moots single EU GMO permit authority

Radical suggestion to devolve GMO permit decision-making surprises EU diplomats

Germany has suggested that the EU should create a semi-independent, centralised authority to issue authorisations for growing and marketing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). At a meeting of EU diplomats in Brussels this week, the German presidency surprised diplomats by suggesting that decision-making power on GMO permits could be taken away from the European Commission and government ministers and put in the hands of a semi-autonomous body.

Until now the only major voice calling for a centralised GMO authority has been the biotechnology industry. Industry believes politicians are too easily swayed by public opinion and their decisions are not always based on purely scientific evidence - something which they hope would cease to be the case with such a centralised body (ENDS Daily 24 July 1998).

EU diplomats are discussing the proposed revision of the directive on the "deliberate release" of GMOs (90/220) on which the German presidency hopes ministers will reach a common position next month. The draft revision aims to make authorisation procedures simpler, more transparent and more predictable. It has so far been intended that EU governments would retain the final decision on all dossiers.

Germany's idea received little support from other countries at this week's meeting, according to Brussels diplomats. One of them told ENDS Daily: "It's very attractive idea to get a more efficient system, but politically the idea is dead. People want to be informed about what is happening [as regards GMO licences] and to put the responsibility entirely in the hands of a new authority would not be acceptable to public opinion."

The diplomat added that the idea was such a radical departure from the European Commission's proposal published 18 months ago (ENDS Daily 26 November 1997) that it could not be added at this stage and would require a completely new proposal.

The idea was not contained within the latest presidency draft of the proposal but was discussed as a separate item. ENDS Daily understands that the suggestion has the backing of three German ministries - agriculture, research and industry - rather than the environment ministry itself, revealing possible differences of opinion within Germany's Red/Green coalition.

It remains to be seen whether the centralised system will be included in an updated version of the text which Germany will present at the next diplomatic meeting on the issue, scheduled for next week.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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