Uproar in Germany over Glyphosate Vote

  • Before the ink was dry on the reauthorization document signed by German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, the buzz in Berlin was that Schmidt had willfully voted for the extension (c) BMEL/photothek.net/Thomas KöhlerBefore the ink was dry on the reauthorization document signed by German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, the buzz in Berlin was that Schmidt had willfully voted for the extension (c) BMEL/photothek.net/Thomas Köhler

Germany’s deciding vote in favor of the European Commission’s five-year reprieve for the controversial herbicide chemical glyphosate at the Nov. 27 meeting of the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed in Brussels is having repercussions at home and making it even harder for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party to form a coalition with the Social Democrats.

Before the ink was dry on the reauthorization document signed by German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, a member of Merkel’s Christian Social sister party, the buzz in Berlin was that Schmidt had willfully voted for the extension over the objections of Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, a Social Democrat.

In previous voting rounds on the glyphosate registration, Germany had abstained, due to the persistent differences of opinion within the Federal Cabinet. Following the vote, Hendricks said she had spoken with her cabinet colleague hours earlier and warned him not to deviate from the accustomed practice. Schmidt “took the chestnuts out of the fire for the Commission in breach of our consultations,” Hendricks commented later.

In the aftermath, the question on most minds was whether Merkel had known of her agriculture minister’s plans. She said she had not – while acknowledging that she herself favored the extension.  "Schmidt's decision went against agreements we have made in government, and these also go for the current caretaker government," the chancellor said.

The departing leader of the Christian Social party, Horst Seehofer, claimed, however that Schmidt had informed him in advance.

Commenting on the controversy, many prominent Social Democrats called the minister’s unilateral action “a breach of trust,” while leaders of the Green party and most environmental organizations called for the minister’s resignation.

Schmidt opened himself to additional criticism by remarking that if he had not voted yes the Commission would have renewed the registration on its own, as EU protocol foresees.

He also asserted that he had been instrumental in getting the planned extension reduced to only five years, rather than 15. Most observers nevertheless thought that was more likely down to France and the environmental movement.

Apart from sowing disaccord in Germany, the minister’s action was also seen as an affront to French Prime Minister Emanuel Macron, who along with most French legislators had pressed for a glyphosate extension of no more than three years. Most recently, the two countries had pledged to cooperate more closely to resolve conflicts within the EU.

Eighteen of the 28 EU states – including the UK, which will only be an member of the alliance for 15 months of the five-year extension period –  voted for the Commission's proposal. Nine, including France, voted against it, and one abstained.

The glyphosate decision “was not only an affront to millions of people, but also against Germany's most important EU partner,” said Anton Hofreiter, parliamentary chief of the Green party.  A spokesperson for the German environment ministry told news agencies that it is working with the French government to see how it can "restrict this chemical as far as possible in Germany.”

EU member states are free to restrict the use of controversial chemicals on their own territory.

BUND, the German Friends of the Earth affiliate, in an open letter to Merkel, called on the chancellor to exercise the privilege of banning glyphosate “as soon as possible.” This appears unlikely, however, as the country’s farmers – like those in other country – have embraced the herbicide containing it because they require less manual labor.

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