During the October 2018 meeting of the Standing Committee on Pesticides, EU member states failed to adopt a measure that would help to protect bees and other pollinators from the harm of pesticides. In particular, from the harm presented by a new and growing class of bee toxic pesticides that are being introduced to replace the recently banned neonicotinoids.
Given the overwhelming support from member states for extending the ban on neonicotinoids it is surprising and disappointing that they have rejected the plan proposed by the European Commission Directorate General for Health to implement the 2013 EFSA Bee Guidance Document. This move appears to be a cynical kowtowing to the wishes of the agroindustry, once again putting profit before protection of bees.
Since the publication of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Bee Guidance Document on the risk assessment of pesticides on bees in 2013, discussions between the European Commission and member states have been systematically leading to a dead end. For a long period of time, the European Commission even stopped its efforts as member states’ opposition remained excessively strong.
In 2013, EFSA undertook an assessment of neonicotinoid insecticides based on the guidance document. The document uses the most up-to-date science to assess the toxicity of a pesticide on bees. Instead of evaluating only acute toxicity (single exposure), it also assesses chronic toxicity (multiple low-level exposure) or toxicity to larvae. This document also allows for assessment of the toxicity of pesticides on bumblebees and solitary bees. Based on EFSA’s assessment, neonicotinoidswere first restricted in 2013 and then banned in 2018. Three quarters (76%) of EU member states supported the ban on neonicotinoids.
Today, those same member states have opposed applying the Bee Guidance Document criteria to all pesticides. Since 2013, apart from the three banned neonicotinoids not a single pesticide has been evaluated using the EFSA Bee Guidance Document. Nevertheless, a series of worrying new generation neonicotinoid insecticides have come on to the market: sulfoxaflor, flupyradifurone, cyantraniliprole or chlorantraniliprole. This means that the dramatic consequences of the use of the three, now-banned, neonicotinoids could simply be repeated due to the absence of a proper risk assessment protocol designed specifically to protect bees.
Martin Dermine, PAN Europe’s environment policy officer, said: “Bees are popular with the public and politicians know it. From Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to local politicians, every politician is a friend of the bees – it means votes from the public! But when it comes to effectively tackling the real causes of bee decline, like pesticides, one realizes that those same politicans play a hypocritical game and, safely shielded behind the closed doors of the Standing Committee, refuse to take measures to phase out bee-toxic pesticides.”
Dermine added: “An ever growing body of evidence shows it is not only insecticides but also fungicides and herbicides that are having negative impact on bee health. While our Ministers protect the agrochemical industry, our bees keep being exposed to dozens of pesticides that are toxic at low levels and are leading to serious pollinator declines. If the Commission and Member States are not prepared to do the right thing PAN Europe intends to take the issue to Court as it is vital to the long-term health of our bees and the citizens of Europe that the most up to date science is used when assessing the risk to bees from all pesticides.”
Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades
The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.
Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.
"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.
Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.
There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.
The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.
NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Czechia's €7 billion recovery and resilience plan
The European Commission has today (19 July) adopted a positive assessment of Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €7 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a key role in helping Czechia emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Czech plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.
The Commission assessed Czechia's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Czechia's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.
Securing Czechia's green and digital transition
The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 42% of its total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, the modernisation of district heating distribution networks, the replacement of coal-fired boilers and improving the energy efficiency of residential and public buildings. The plan also includes measures for nature protection and water management as well as investment in sustainable mobility.
The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 22% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. The plan provides for investments in digital infrastructure, the digitalization of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. It promotes the digitalisation of businesses and digital projects in the cultural and creative sectors. The plan also includes measures to improve digital skills at all levels, as part of the education system and through dedicated upskilling and reskilling programmes.
Reinforcing Czechia's economic and social resilience
The Commission considers that Czechia's plan effectively addresses all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Czechia by the Council in the European Semester in 2019 and in 2020.
The plan provides for measures to tackle the need for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable transport and digital infrastructure. Several measures aim at addressing the need to foster digital skills, improve the quality and inclusiveness of education, and to increase the availability of childcare facilities. The plan also provides for improving the business environment, mainly through extensive e-government measures, a reform of the procedures of granting construction permits and anti-corruption measures. Challenges in the area of R&D shall be improved by investment geared at strengthening public-private cooperation and financial and non-financial support to innovative firms.
The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Czechia's economic and social situation, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.
Supporting flagship investments and reform projects
The Czech plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Czechia has proposed €1.4bn to support the energy efficiency renovation of buildings and €500 million to boost digital skills through education and investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes for the entire labour force.
The Commission's assessment finds that no measure included in the plan does any significant harm to the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.
The arrangements proposed in the recovery and resilience plan in relation to control systems are adequate to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflicts of interests relating to the use of funds. The arrangements are also expected to effectively avoid double funding under that Regulation and other Union programmes. These control systems are complemented by additional audit and control measures contained in the Commission's proposal for a Council Implementing Decision as milestones. These milestones must be fulfilled before Czechia presents its first payment request to the Commission.
President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This plan will play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards a greener and more digital future for Czechia. Measures that improve energy efficiency, digitalize public administration and deter the misuse of public funds are exactly in line with the objectives of NextGenerationEU. I also welcome the strong emphasis the plan places on strengthening the resilience of Czechia's health-care system to prepare it for future challenges. We will stand with you every step of the way to ensure that the plan is fully implemented.
Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Czechia's recovery and resilience plan will provide a strong boost to the country's efforts to get back its feet after the economic shock caused the pandemic. The €7bn in NextGenerationEU funds that will flow to Czechia over the next five years will support a wide-ranging programme of reforms and investments to build a more sustainable and competitive economy. They include very sizeable investments in building renovation, clean energy and sustainable mobility, as well as measures to boost digital infrastructure and skills and the digitalisation of public services. The business environment will benefit from the promotion of e-government and anti-corruption measures. The plan will also support improvements in healthcare, including reinforced cancer prevention and rehabilitation care.”
The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €7bn in grants to Czechia under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.
The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €910m to Czechia in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total amount allocated to Czechia.
An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “This plan will put Czechia on the path to recovery and boost its economic growth as Europe gears up for the green and digital transitions. Czechia intends to invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, while improving the energy efficiency of buildings. It aims to roll out greater digital connectivity across the country, promote digital education and skills, and digitalize many of its public services. And it places a welcome focus on improving the business environment and justice system, backed by measures to fight corruption and promote e-government – all in a balanced response to the Czech economic and social situation. Once put properly into practice, this plan will help to put Czechia on a sound footing for the future.”
The Commission will authorize further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms.
Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods
The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.
Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.
Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.
Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.
"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.
"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."
Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.
But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.
The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.
Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.
Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.
In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.
It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.
Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.
RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.
In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.
Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.
Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.
Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.
Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.
The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.
Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.
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