After months of indecisive votes among the 28 member states in
Brussels, Germany, whose Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to form a
new coalition after a September election, came off the fence after
abstaining in previous meetings. It said it backed a European
Commission proposal against the wishes of France.
The Commission, the European Union's executive, said in a statement
that 18 countries had backed its proposal to renew the chemical's
license. Nine countries were against and one abstained, giving a
"positive opinion" by the narrowest possible margin under rules
requiring more than a simple majority.
The extension was opposed by Germany's center-left Social Democrats
(SPD), with which Merkel is expected to launch exploratory talks
this week on renewing their "grand coalition" after plans for an
alliance with two other parties failed.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was elected in May on a
platform of pursuing deeper EU integration alongside Germany, had
wanted a shorter extension and a rapid phasing out of glyphosate,
which is a mainstay of farming across the continent.
After the vote, he said he would take all necessary measures to ban
the product, originally developed by Monsanto, as soon as an
alternative is available and at the latest within three years.
Monsanto declined to comment.
Europe has been wrestling for the past two years over what to do
with the chemical, a key ingredient in Monsanto's top-selling
Roundup, whose license was set to expire on Dec. 15.
The chemical has been used by farmers for more than 40 years, but
its safety was cast into doubt when a World Health Organization
agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),
concluded in 2015 it probably causes cancer.
The European Union agreed to roll over the license for 18 months
pending the results of a study by the European Chemicals Agency,
which said in March this year that there was no evidence linking
glyphosate to cancer in humans.
Protest groups, however, seized on the IARC report, questioned the
science in other studies and complained about the influence of big
"The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides
have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place
in them," Greenpeace said after Monday's vote.
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In theory, the Commission could have pushed through a license
extension, but it said it wanted governments to make the call on an
issue that has become so politically charged. After a series of
indecisive votes, they finally produced a clear majority in favor of
the Commission's proposal.
"Today's vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share
and accept our collective responsibility in decision making," said
health and food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.
Farmers association Copa-Cogeca said it was glad a decision had been
taken, but regretted the license renewal had not been for 15 years
given strong scientific evidence from EU agencies.
The key swing vote came from Germany, whose government is operating
in an acting capacity following the indecisive election. Berlin
abstained earlier, but threw its weight behind a decision opposed by
Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, all did likewise, leaving only
Portugal still on the fence on Monday. Had any of the others
continued to abstain, deadlock would have gone on. An extension
required 16 states representing 65 percent of the EU population to
vote in favor. The 18 supporters account for 65.7 percent.
The German vote exposed internal divisions in Berlin ahead of this
week's coalition talks. Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, an
SPD lawmaker, accused the chancellor's center-right group of
reneging on a deal to continue abstaining.
French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert told reporters that
Paris would push to change farming practices that embraced
alternatives to glyphosate, so that its use could be ended.
(Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen in Brussels, Sybille de La
Hamaide in Paris and Thorsten Severin and Andreas Rinke in Berlin;
Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Catherine Evans)
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