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European Citizens’ Initiative out to save bees and farmers

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'Save bees and farmers!' is what the European Citizens’ Initiative is called. symbol picture © Pixabay/DetBe

The main agricultural policy decision on subsidies, limits and authorisation of pesticides are made at EU level. An alliance with the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) wants to apply pressure on the EU.

The initiators have already taken the first step: the EU Commission has officially registered the ECI ‘Save bees and farmers!’. Now the participating organisations have one year to collect one million signatures from at least seven member states. If they succeed, the EU Commission will have to deal with the citizens’ concerns. However, they are not obliged to implement the demands and present corresponding regulations. Nevertheless, an ECI can clearly influence the policy of the Commission, as demonstrated by the Stop Glyphosate initiative.

The new ECI builds on this success and extends the focus from a specific substance to the use of pesticides as a whole. Its aim is “to phase out synthetic pesticides in EU agriculture by 80% by 2030, starting with the most hazardous, to become free of synthetic by 2035”. At the same time, natural ecosystems are to be restored in agricultural regions to increase biodiversity. In order to achieve these goals, the ECI calls for the EU to “reform agriculture by prioritising small scale, diverse and sustainable farming”. This should be accompanied by a rapid increase in agro-ecological practice and organic farming, as well as more research into pesticide- and GMO-free agriculture.

System change in agriculture is needed in Europe

Veronika Feicht, Agricultural Policy Officer at the Umweltinstitut Munich (Environmental Institute) explains that a system change in agriculture is needed in Europe; an initialisation of this EU-wide agricultural turnaround is the demand of the campaign. The institute is also part of the ECI’s networks, as are the Friends of the Earth Europe, the Pesticide Action Network, Global 2000 in Austria, the French environmental organisation Générations Futures, the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Germany, the Aurelia Foundation, Campact and numerous other European actors. With their campaign, they also want to influence the forthcoming decision on the EU’s agricultural policy for the years 2021 to 2027. Each of the coming years, 52 million is to flow into agriculture. This way, industrially oriented farms with large farming areas will receive the strongest overall support, criticizes Carsten Berg, Campaign Director at the Aurelia Foundation. He says that small-scale farms and organic farms, which guarantee structural and species diversity through crop rotations, are systematically disadvantaged. Thus, the EU is promoting both the dramatic extinction of species and the millionfold loss of small-scale farms, Berg notes. In May 2019, the Commission had already registered a citizens’ initiative ‘Save the bees’ launched by the ÖDP party. This initiative has in the meantime joined the new ECI.

Since one week, the initiators of the petition for a referendum on ‘Species Protection – Save the Bees in Baden-Wuerttemberg’, Germany, have also been collecting signatures. They are demanding that the state’s nature conservation regulations be tightened in order to protect insects. This proBees initiative also needs one million signatures – only in Baden-Wuerttemberg. If the initiators are successful, a referendum on the legislation will be held in the state. In Lower Saxony, such a referendum is also in preparation. Outside of Germany, the Swiss will probably soon be able to vote on two referendums: one wants to ban mass livestock farming, the other wants to ban the use of synthetic pesticides in the next ten years.

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