Trade Talk

Free or freeze EU innovation

Guest post by Garlich Von Essen, Secretary General of the European Seed Association (ESA)

2016. Like any New Year, this one as well starts with high expectations and many solemn declarations. Most of them are rather personal and ambitious ones, like quitting smoking or running the next Brussels Marathon.

By contrast, it seems that Europe as a whole is a lot less self-confident. We seem to see problems rather than solutions, risks rather than opportunities, and potential pitfalls rather than possible progress. Uncertainty is reason enough to maintain an unsatisfactory status quo rather than to invent and invest in new ways forward.

The current European Commission is probably one of the most political or politicised ones we have ever seen. Responding to a widespread criticism of its appetite to overregulate everything, Juncker’s team portrays itself as the EU body concentrating its work on “big things” that matter to citizens.

But unfortunately, the reality is different. The Commission seems to have abandoned policy making and policy enforcement in what is the core of the Union and what has made it a success story in the past: the single market and the common set of rules and laws.

This is particularly striking in the agriculture and food area. The European Food Safety Authority is still supposed to render opinions of the highest possible scientific excellence, yet its findings are inconsequential when other factors, i.e. political opportunism, apply. And new plant breeding techniques are still praised in Sunday speeches as important tools that may help bring the knowledge-based bioeconomy of the future – but when it comes to their practical use, the precautionary principle is used to justify a lack of political leadership and sense of economic potential.

Caution will make you look left and right before crossing a street. Caution does not mean you keep looking left and right without ever crossing the street.

Politics is about making decisions. On the basis of the best advice available. Taking into account what shall be achieved. And making use of ones’ appointed role and prerogatives.

The European Commission has a political choice to free or freeze the innovative potential that new plant breeding techniques can bring to the EU’s agri-food chain and its entire economy. This is one of the “big things” to decide for Juncker’s team – so let us hope for a wise decision.

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