In a resounding defeat for the European Commission, a large majority of EU member states on 18 December voted in support of Austria's right to ban two genetically modified maize varieties. While these crops have already been approved at the EU-wide level, Austria has invoked the safeguard clause under the EU's approval procedures -- allowing member states to adopt safeguard measures 'as a result of new or additional information' -- to justify the ban.
Of the 25 member states, only the UK, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Sweden backed the Commission's proposal to instruct Austria to lift the ban. A similar proposal had been defeated in 2004, but the Commission had hoped that a recent WTO ruling against the national-level biotech bans would provide the necessary political backing for its initiative.
The WTO ruling called on the Commission to bring the national marketing and import bans instituted by Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg in line with WTO obligations after concluding that they could not be justified as precautionary measures and were not based on an adequate risk assessment (see BRIDGES Weekly, 4 October 2006).
Following member states' rejection of its proposal, the Commission will now need to consider alternative options for implementing the ruling, which could include judicial action or requesting Austria to provide a risk assessment that complies with WTO requirements.
ICTSD reporting; "Austria allowed to keep its ban on GM corn", FINANCIAL TIMES, 19 December 2006.