Vytenis Andriukaitis is not due to take up his new role until next month, but in a committee hearing this week he was asked his position on some of the toughest issues he is likely to face, including GM crops, animal cloning and protecting European food standards during trade negotiations.
Speaking about GM crops, he said: “Right from the start, on November 1, I immediately have to take measures and look into the whole package of rules. The current rules create conflict because the opinions of the member state are ignored. In my opinion, the sovereignty and subsidiarity of the member states must be respected.”
Indeed, the Commission’s president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker said in his political guidelines statement in July that he intended to review the approval process for genetically modified crops.
Only two GM crops have been approved for cultivation in Europe – Monsanto’s MON810 corn, and BASF’s Amflora potato.
Several other GM crops are not approved for cultivation but can be imported into Europe, and unintentional presence of GMOs is tolerated at a level of up to 0.9% in other crops. However, the progress of GM crops in Europe has been stalled by fiercely divided opinion between member states, and several countries have faced legal challenges after banning cultivation of GM crops under a ‘get-out’ clause in existing legislation.
Huge philosophical problem
Andriukaitis echoed Juncker’s earlier statement, saying: “The Commission’s decision should not conflict with the opinions of the member states. No doubt the cultivation of GMOs in Europe is a huge problem from a philosophical point of view.
“Biological diversity in Europe is great and interfering with the balance of our ecosystems could be very harmful. Decisions in this field should fall within the competencies of the member states and we need to respect the principle of subsidiarity.”
The Greens/European Free Alliance has said the appointment of Andriukaitis’ is promising, especially given his medical background, and in light of the pledged review of GM authorisation.
However, the alliance also said in a blog post: “A clear part of the brief is to "simplify existing legislation", which is shorthand for scaling backing existing EU standards and regulations,”
“…We will take [Juncker] at his word and expect the Commission to make sure the important and necessary overhaul of the EU authorisation system is not jeopardised by the controversial proposal to allow member states to opt out of GMO authorisations, which cannot be a trick to allow easier EU authorisations.”
On the issue of animal cloning, Andriukaitis alluded to deeply divided opinions on the issue, and said: “My position is very clear: I am an honest broker to coordinate all different opinions, and to strive for compromises taking into account the European Parliament’s opinion on this issue.”