Genetically Modified Organisms: Commission takes Court action against eleven Member States

July 16, 2003

Brussels, 15 July 2003

The European Commission has decided to refer France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Austria and Finland to the European Court of Justice for failing to adopt and notify national legislation implementing an EU law on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment. The eleven Member States cited have failed to meet an agreed deadline of 17 October 2002 for the adoption and notification of national legislation. The EU law strengthens earlier laws and was adopted to help better ensure a safe, step-by-step approach to releasing GMOs into the environment.

Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "I have been repeatedly inviting Member States to live up to their obligations and I am disappointed that this has produced few results. The new framework Directive on GMOs, which entered into force in October last year, provides the European Union with one of the most advanced and comprehensive pieces of legislation existing in this field at world level. This legislation has been the result of a transparent and democratic process, and provides a solid answer to public concerns about the environmental and health effects of GMOs. But our credibility will be severely undermined if we are not able to demonstrate that we can implement it. It is therefore high time that all Member States bring their national laws into line with the EU law."

On 17 October 2002, a new Directive revising the original framework for regulating the release of GMOs in the EU came into force (1) . The revised Directive strengthens the rules on the release of GMOs into the environment. It improves the strictness and transparency of the Directive, notably creating a more effective and efficient authorisation procedure. In particular, it introduces:

  • Principles for the environmental risk assessment;

  • Mandatory post-marketing monitoring, including monitoring of possible long-term effects on the environment;

  • Mandatory information to the public;

  • A requirement for Member States to ensure labelling and traceability at all stages of marketing;

  • A requirement that initial approvals of GMOs be limited to a maximum of ten years;

  • Obligatory consultation of the Scientific Committee(s);

  • An obligation to consult the European Parliament on decisions relating to the authorisation to release GMOs into the environment;
    • The possibility for the Council of Ministers to adopt or reject a Commission Proposal for authorisation of a GMO by qualified majority.
Situation in Member States

As the Commission had received no implementing legislation from France, Luxembourg Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Austria or Finland by the deadline for transposing the Directive into national law, 17 October 2002, it sent each Member State a Letter of Formal Notice (first written warning) under Article 226 of the Treaty.

France, Belgium, Italy and Greece failed to respond to the Letter of Formal Notice. The response from the Netherlands was unsatisfactory as it confirmed that only partial implementing measures had been adopted. Luxembourg, Germany and Austria responded by informing the Commission of a proposed timetable for the implementation of the Directive. However, no draft or adopted implementing measures were communicated to the Commission. Ireland and Finland responded by indicating that implementing measures were under preparation, but draft measures were not communicated nor was any indication given of the proposed timetable for the adoption of these measures. Spain indicated that primary legislation was being prepared.

The Commission then sent Reasoned Opinions (second written warning) in March 2003 and gave the Member States 2 months to reply to the Commission.

France, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and Greece failed to respond to the Reasoned Opinion. For Belgium , although draft implementing measures at federal level were communicated to the Commission in response to the Reasoned Opinion, no indication was given as to when the legislation would be adopted. In its response to the Reasoned Opinion, Ireland again stated that implementing measures were under preparation but failed to communicate draft measures or indicate the proposed timetable for adoption. Spain notified new primary legislation. However, this needs to be supplemented by a royal decree, which has not yet been adopted and sent to the Commission. In its response, Austria updated the Commission on the steps being taken to introduce implementing legislation in its Parliament, but such legislation has still not been adopted. The Dutch and Finnish replies included a copy of draft implementing measures but these have still not been adopted.

As the eleven above-mentioned countries have still not ensured full implementation of the revised Directive on GMOs, the Commission has decided to refer them to the European Court of Justice.

For further information about GMOs in the EU, see MEMO/02/160 -rev:

For current statistics on infringements in general, please visit the following web-site:
(1) Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 March 2001 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC

DN: IP/03/1007 Date: 15/07/2003

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