It’s a rather hazy and secretive proposal at the moment, but it seems that the EU could end years of frustration and deadlock over whether to grow genetically modified organisms. On Tuesday, the European Commission is set to propose that the decision should be up to national and local governments. This would be a rare application of subsidiarity, the recognition that the individual 27 EU member states are better placed – and elected – to represent their people’s wishes. Hence the unlikely duo that pushed for the proposal, the pro-GM Netherlands and anti-GM Austria.
There were already signs of change in the EU with the approval of a genetically modified potato in March, the first approval since the decade-long de facto moratorium. The effects of breaking the deadlock would be felt far beyond the EU’s borders. It could potentially encourage the growth of GMOs in Africa, whose low uptake of the technology has largely been determined by its largest agricultural export market, the EU.
But GMO-critics like Greenpeace are already threatening the viability of the offer. They argue that all Member States will be asked to approve GMOs at the EU level, but not given any extra powers to ban them at the local or national levels should they wish.
It is true that certain issues remain unclear: for example, Belgium questioned whether the whole bloc would suffer retaliatory trade measures should the US challenge a Member State ban, as it did for the EU.
But for both GM enthusiasts and staunch opponents alike, this is a rare opportunity to exercise greater influence over decision-making and to ensure that citizens’ wishes are better represented at the sub-national and national levels, rather than by unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels.