The 27 EU Member States are not entitled to derogate from the EU ban on neonicotinoid seeds, the European Court of Justice ruled on 19 January. This applies even in exceptional circumstances.
The ruling follows an application to the Belgian Council of State to annul Belgium’s derogation for the use of bee-toxic insecticides on sugar beet crops. The application was filed by the activist groups Pesticide Action Network Europe, (PAN Europe), the association Nature & Progrès Belgium, which raises awareness and informs the general public about environmental and societal issues, and a Belgian beekeeper.
The CJEU ruling reshuffles the deck and gives new hope to environmental organisations, as the institution recalled that the ban was adopted “because of the high acute and chronic risks to bees from seeds treated with plant protection products containing these neonicotinoids”. Since 2021, despite protests from associations against successive authorisations, neither the government nor the courts have followed them.
Neonicotinoids have been banned since the end of 2018 in the European Union because of their danger to biodiversity and human health. Eleven countries continue to grant “emergency authorisations” to stakeholders in the sugar beet sector, who are struggling to find alternatives. According to a recent PAN Europe report, EU Member States have granted more than 236 derogations for banned pesticides in the last four years, with neonicotinoids accounting for almost half (47.5%).
Anti-pesticide groups have argued that neonicotinoids are increasingly used preventively by ‘seed coating’ instead of being sprayed on the crop. This means that they are applied directly to the seed before the plant is even infested with pests.
Not surprisingly, today’s ruling puts an end to almost half of the derogations granted by Member States to banned pesticides.
The French government was planning to grant a derogation for the third consecutive year, in 2023, to sugar beet growers using these substances. It will have to abandon this project, now considered illegal by the EU.