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Glyphosate, comitology and democracy in the EU

Most of the laws passed by the EU are decided in the shadows, without the involvement of the European Parliament and with the 27 member states unable to prevent the Commission from positioning itself as the main legislator in the EU, despite not having such a role and lacking democratic election.

Transparency regarding the documents discussed and the decision-making procedures is virtually non-existent, and participatory democracy through lobbying is difficult, if not almost impossible.

The vast majority of laws passed each year in the EU are misnamed secondary legislation, i.e., laws of the Commission (or comitology laws), not of the European Parliament and the Council, the only co-legislators designated as such by the Treaties. Approximately 1,500 laws in the form of implementing acts are adopted each year in the EU.

Welcome to comitology, welcome to the “c-world”!

But who decides and how?

In the case of glyphosate, the most well-known herbicide within the EU, as important or even more important than determining its safety (farmers deny it while environmentalists assert it), is understanding who makes the decisions regarding its authorization and how. Besides authorizing chemicals like glyphosate, there are hundreds of other cases in the areas of health and the environment that affect thousands of businesses and the daily lives of millions of people. For example, decisions about whether nuclear energy is a sustainable investment, regulating hydrogen, eco-designing products, determining which substances can come into contact with drinking water, the functioning of the CO2 emissions trading system for polluting industries, or the new border adjustment mechanism to prevent imports from gaining an advantage over the strict EU CO2 legislation that European industries must adhere to.

To take the example of one industry, the European Commission recently announced, during a cement summit, that there are 70 pending comitology laws affecting the decarbonization of this industry!

The list continues and can be extended to international trade (sanitary conditions for food imports), financial services, and artificial intelligence, to name just a few.

Let’s use the example of glyphosate to understand who makes these decisions and how they are made (in this case, the authorization for its use expires on December 31 of this year):

  • To renew the authorization for its manufacture and use until 2033, a qualified majority (in favor or against) of states is required. This means 15 Member States representing at least 65% of the EU population. If this is not achieved, the Commission has the power to pass the law and implement it.
  • Last July, the Commission presented its proposal for the renewal of authorization to SCoPAFF (Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food, and Feed). There was significant confusion about the agenda and criticism that there was insufficient scientific information to decide on the renewal of glyphosate’s authorization.
  • The SCoPAFF meeting on October 13 failed to reach a qualified majority for or against the renewal of glyphosate.
  • The Review Committee (composed of 27 representatives of the Member States and acting as a ‘second instance’ committee) will meet on November 16.
  • If there is still no majority, the Commission will have the authority to decide through a legislative act with the same value as a Regulation or Directive of the European Parliament and the Council.

Faced with the inability of governments to gather a majority in favor or against, and with the European Parliament acting as a ‘stone guest,’ citizens and lobbyists will continue to search for information and attempt to influence in vain while, once again, a new act is enacted that undermines democracy and transparency in the EU.

Is this the best climate of confidence for citizens to vote in the next elections in June 2024?

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