A quick update on the progress of the European Commission’s Plant Reproductive Material Regulation.

A vast number of amendments to the Regulation have been proposed by the two committees (COMAGRI – agriculture and COMENVI – environment). They run to something like 500 pages and had to be translated into the official languages of the EU. The first 70 pages or so were all proposals to reject the Regulation in its entirety.

The main political groupings in the European Parliament met three weeks ago and all but one (the LibDem group) agreed that they would push for complete rejection of the proposed Regulation. Last week, COMENVI voted on a motion to reject the Regulation and the motion was approved by 49 votes to nil, which is pretty unanimous! COMAGRI will be voting on February 11th.

So, it seems likely that the Regulation will be rejected in its entirety. In the meantime, the European Council (the relevant government departments of the Member States) continues to plough through the document. We understand that they have just about finished the first read-through and intend to begin a second read-through, although that plan may be changed in light of events in the committees.

However (you knew there was a “however”, didn’t you?), rejection of the proposal may not be good news and it certainly is not the end of the story.

Firstly, if the Regulation is rejected, it is likely that the Commission will begin to insist on more rigorous enforcement of the 1999 Directives. Some larger growers have systems which would be in compliance with that – full traceability in their systems, all batches of plants identifiable as belonging to a particular lot, correct and robust labelling of varieties. Some other growers, particularly in ornamentals, won’t be so compliant.

Secondly, the Regulation will not go away. It is part of a package of five Regulations and the rest of the package will fail without this Regulation. Included in the package is an important (and mostly good) Regulation on Plant Health, so there is good reason to support the Regulation, although only if it includes the amendments proposed by our stakeholder group (all of which were proposed by various (and, in some cases, multiple) MEPs and included in the 500-odd pages of amendments currently being translated).

It is likely that the current text of the Regulation will be killed off fairly soon (although the COMAGRI vote is not until February 11). It will then be up to the Commission to make a new proposal. We expect that they will begin a new consultation process first before drafting a new text, most likely consulting with COMENVI, COMAGRI and the Council (member states) – and possibly (hopefully!) also with the stakeholder groups that have sprung up in several countries.

We have no idea what the timetable might be for that. The current European Parliament will be dissolved around Easter ready for the elections in May. The new parliament will not sit until June and then will have summer recess. In October, the Commission will finish its term and a new Commission will be appointed. In the meantime, the Greeks currently hold the EU rotating presidency and are driving the timetable – and it seems that they do not see it as a high priority. From July 1, the presidency passes to the Italians and it is not likely that they will see it as a priority either!

So, it looks like we are going into a period of uncertainty on this matter, with no idea whether what we end up with will be better or worse than what we started with. If the Regulation survives but with all our amendments included, that would probably be the best outcome, but that now seems unlikely.