Minister Söder declared the intent to raise the initiative in the European Committee on Regions. According to the minister in an address to the cabinet, the “...discussion of gene-technology-free zones in Europe [would receive thereby] an important impulse. The point,” continued Mr Söder, “is also to strengthen people’s acceptance of Europe in that we provide the regions with more powers of co-determination. For this reason, we want to decide ourselves upon the cultivation of genetically modified plants. This is why exemption clauses are needed in European law.”
Previously, the German Federal Minister of Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Horst Seehofer, had supported the idea that solely the approval of GM plants should be decided on the European level. Guidelines for the cultivation of such plants should be determined subsequently at the regional level. In contrast to practice to date, regions would attain thereby the right to prohibit the cultivation of GM plants. Under current legislation, zones that are “free of gene technology” only may be established on the basis of voluntary agreements. In 2007, the European Court had declared invalid a general cultivation ban that had been enacted by Upper Austria.
The manner remains unclear in which the conceivable regional responsibilities legally would be applied to the actual cultivation of GM plants. Neither the Bavarian state government nor the Minister of Agriculture Seehofer has provided concrete suggestions. At the insistence of France, possible changes in the European authorisation procedure for GM plants currently are being discussed. This topic also is on the agenda of the Council of Ministers for the Environment in Autumn.
The manner in which the division between different levels of responsibilities for the authorisation and the use of GM plants may be reconciled with conditions of the EU single market also has not yet been clarified. Furthermore, regional bans that are unsupported by scientifically-based considerations may contradict agreements of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).