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ClientEarth Communications

30th September 2021

Access to Information
Rule of law

We are taking the EU Commission to court to end secrecy of pesticides approval

We are taking the European Commission to court for refusing to disclose the positions of national governments on the approval of harmful pesticides in the EU.

EU Member States are collectively responsible for approving or rejecting the proposals of the European Commission to allow certain chemicals to be used as pesticides in the EU. They approved, for example, the renewal of the authorisation to use glyphosate until December 2022.

We have condemned the secrecy of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF), in which 27 EU agriculture ministers decide whether to approve dangerous pesticides behind closed doors.

Among other pesticides, the committee is currently assessing whether cypermethrin – used for agricultural purposes but proven to be toxic to bees, fish and aquatic insects – should continue to be used in Europe once its current approval expires.

The summary records of these committee meetings – the only brief insights we have into the discussions – reveal that some ministers have radically changed their mind in favor of cypermethrin in the course of 2020 but the public has no idea why.

We are challenging the Commission’s refusal to disclose the positions that Member States are defending when it comes to renewing the authorisation of cypermethrin in front of the General Court of the EU.

Our environmental democracy lawyer Anne Friel said:

“Right now, it’s in ministers’ hands to allow or not the use of this highly toxic pesticide but apparently the public have no right to know the positions of their own governments on this crucial decision. This raises serious questions about these black box committees, which have the power to take decisions that harm people and the environment without giving any explanation to the public.
“We have the right to know which Member States are now pushing to renew the authorisation for a pesticide which is proven to be highly toxic for the environment, and why they have taken that position. We believe that the EU’s transparency rules legally oblige the Commission to make this information available to all.”

The SCoPAFF is one of the many committees composed of representatives of national ministries that are given, by law, the power to approve or amend many important decisions proposed by the European Commission, including decisions relating to human health and the environment.

The so-called comitology register publishes summary reports of these meetings. But they only provide limited information, withholding valuable details like the positions of individual Member States and how they ultimately vote.

This lack of transparency prevents the public from understanding why and how decisions that impact public health and environment are made. Crucially, it means that citizens cannot hold their governments to account for the positions they defend at EU level.

Anne added:

“This lack of transparency of committees perpetuates a situation in which Member States can hide behind ‘Brussels’ for decisions they do not want to be accountable for, even though they are very much responsible for them.”

reform of comitology processes which was started in 2017 to address the lack of transparency of SCoPAFF and other similar committees is currently ongoing.