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BeeLife comments on the European Court of Auditors' Report on EU failures for Pollinator Protection

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) is publishing its special report No.15/2020 “Protection of Wild Pollinators in the EU: Commission initiatives have not borne fruit” [1]. In the report, the Court states that efforts to tackle the decline of wild pollinators have been insufficient and produced little to no positive effect in the field. The report confirms some of the main premises BeeLife has defended in the past few years: action for the protection of pollinators needs to be actively engaging and the impact of policies for the benefit of pollinators needs to be stepped up

The key message of the ECA is clear and BeeLife supports its main findings. This is a timely report as a new set of policies such as the EU's biodiversity [2] and the Farm to Fork [3] strategies are being published, and the future of agriculture with the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) remains under negotiation in the European Parliament. 

We highlight two key elements from the findings in ECA’s report that denounce insufficient protection of pollinators in the EU, while commenting and adding some nuances to inspire the improvement of conditions in the post-2021 strategies and policies.

First, the inefficiency of ongoing policies which are expected to change with the EU Green Deal and its biodiversity strategy. 

The ineffectiveness of EU policies to produce major changes for the protection of pollinators is troubling. However, it must be specified that some of its policies are still afloat and instead of being dismissed, they should be improved to strengthen their influence on other policies affecting the landscape and environment. A great opportunity is the full incorporation of the EU Pollinators Initiative [4], which can provide important benefits for the future of pollinators. For instance, it presents the opportunity to include a Pollinator Index [5] (currently under development as required by the same initiative) as an impact indicator for the future CAP. This would allow us to better assess the impact of the CAP (in short, medium and long-term) on the diversity and density of pollinators, thus triggering necessary actions by authorities and legislators. 

In this same point, the ECA states that the CAP is part of the problem. We agree with this remark but insist that the next CAP can be differently shaped so that European agriculture can both protect and benefit from pollinators. Measures targeting the protection of pollinators in both the 1st and 2nd pillars could improve the stimulus for pollinator-friendly practices, benefiting both pollinators and farmers. In general, requirements in the CAP need to be much more ambitious. In more specific terms, there are several potential measures that are available in our full document on the Future CAP and Pollinators[6], which include for example the proper application of Integrated Pest Management and the introduction of a Pollinator Eco-scheme in the 1st pillar. In the 2nd pillar, other more specific measures can be taken, particularly focused on stimulating and advancing knowledge and environmentally-friendly innovations. Furthermore, all of these measures need to follow a strong green transition logic, dethroning intensive agriculture as the basis of European food production.

Second, the problems surrounding pesticides legislation. 

As we continue to denounce [7], the use of emergency authorisations for banned substances represents an abuse of Article 53 of pesticides regulation EC 1107/2009 [8], which has been incoherently exploited to subvert the scientifically-based decisions for proper risk management. Some Member States that continuously grant emergency authorisations are not only abusing Article 53 but they even fail to fulfill the minimum conditions such as providing proper documentation to prove the urgency status and the inadequacy of alternatives to the banned pesticide.

The proper implementation of EU pesticides legislation also needs to become a priority in the near future, particularly considering that the Farm to Fork Strategy is aiming to “reduce by 50% the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 2030 (and) reduce by 50% the use of more hazardous pesticides by 2030” [9]. Therefore, the proper enforcement of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive 2009/128/EC needs to finally become a reality.

Besides, there is an urging need for greater transparency in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animal, Food and Feed (SCOPAFF). This is a particularly pressing issue to improve accountability and proper citizen control on the insufficiencies that surround the protection of pollinators in risk assessment. A particularly troubling case has been the failure to adopt the Bee Guidance Document by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). For seven years since its publication in 2013, SCOPAFF has rejected this opportunity to improve risk assessment for honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees, also missing a significant opportunity to protect pollinators in general since bees serve as ‘the canary in the coal mine, sounding the alarm when something is wrong in the environment’ (Read our full report on the failure to adopt the Bee Guidance Document [10]).

The shortcomings noted by the ECA reveal at the same time the opportunities at hand to effectively mobilise public funds for the protection of pollinators, which play an essential role in ensuring food security and healthy ecosystems. The green future of Europe can only become a reality if the concerning decline of pollinators is halted by ensuring the effectiveness of current and future policies.

[1]  European Court of Auditors. 2020. Special Report 15/2020: Protection of wild pollinators in the EU — Commission initiatives have not borne fruit

[5] BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination. 2019. Pollinators as Indicators in Policy Affecting the Landscape and Environment.

[6] BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination. 2019. A CAP for Pollinators: How the New CAP May Support Pollinators and Pollinators Benefit the New CAP.

[7] BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination. 2017. Bee Emergency Call - How some Member States are threatening bees by allowing the use of prohibited pesticides and how the Commission does nothing to stop them.

[8] Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market and repealing Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC

[10] BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination. 2019. When Science and Biodiversity Meet Economic Interests.


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