Delayed earlier this month in Brussels, the Commission decision this week approves proposals to allow imports for food and feed - not cultivation - of the GM maize BT11 from Swiss biotech firm Syngenta.
In 1998 the de facto moratorium was born when Europe stopped approving GM crops for food, feed and cultivation. The decision this week turns the tide, suggesting that Europe will soon open the barriers on GM imports. Critics say that pressure from the US - home to a massive GM farming industry - has heavily influenced the Commission move.
'There is no market for GM foods in Europe. Why should the consumer be bullied or cajoled into accepting it?' a spokesman for the environmental group Friends of the Earth said to FoodNavigator.com.
But for Romano Prodi, president of the Commission, the step is a logical one, based on science and risk, and made possible through tight new rules on GM food and feed.
'The EU has put in place a clear, transparent and stringent system to regulate genetically modified food, feed and plants. It is only logical that this safe system continues to be applied in practice and that the EU moves ahead with pending authorisations,' he said this week.
Clear signs that the Brussels-based body wants to push BT11 through to the marketplace were in evidence when Prodi added : 'In case the Council [EU ministers] fails to take a decision on the GM sweet maize Bt11 within the 3-months statutory period, the Commission should adopt the decision.'
Europe has undoubtedly been under pressure from the US - driven by US farmers branding the EU's ban as a barrier to trade - and the shadow of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute panel, set up last year at the instigation of the US, Canada and Argentina to settle the issue.
'With regard to the EU defence in the WTO panel, it is essential to ensure by all necessary means that EU legislation is complied with,' said Prodi.
There lies the reason for the fresh action this week to push Syngenta's application through, as well as other delayed dossiers waiting in the wings.
The Commission has agreed to submit a draft authorisation for the GM maize NK603 supplied by US biotech giant Monsanto. The maize was recently given the 'risk-clear' from Europe's food watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority. Keen to push it through, Brussels said on Wednesday that it is looking for a decision as early as February.
The Commission also held a debate on its biotech policy, its first in more than three years. Although fairly inconclusive, participants agreed on the need to address at the EU level the individual safeguard measures - notably GM free zones - on GMOs which have been adopted by various member states.
Touching lightly on the contentious issue of GM seeds - cultivation even more disputed than food and feed - the group gave the all clear for proposing labelling thresholds for the 'adventitious presence of GM seeds' in non-GM seed varieties in the near future.