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A German Jamaica Coalition Spells Trouble For Glyphosate


Angela Merkel, Germany’s old new chancellor, last week kicked off coalition talks between her Christian Democrats (CDU), the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Green Party to form a “Jamaica” coalition government. The talks for such a constellation, already tested on the state level with rather mixed success, face a rocky road ahead.

The pro-business FDP and environmentalist Greens are traditionally hostile to each other’s policies, and while all sides agree that a compromise needs to be found, there is no reason to believe that the Greens will relinquish any of their environmentalist zeal – with far reaching consequences for Germany and the EU.

The divisions run deep. So much as so, in fact, that Greens party chief Cem Özdemir once referred to the FDP as the “anti party” opposing virtually everything the Greens have ever stood for. But after a 12-year absence from the government, the prospect of the Greens being able to put their mark on the politics of a conservative Merkel administration has environmentalists cheering. Issues such as renewable energy and the phasing out phasing out of coal power plants can be expected to be more aggressively pushed, as will the banning banning of petrol and diesel-fuelled cars to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles.

Merkel, in anticipation of weaker than expected election results, realized the need for compromise several weeks ahead of the general vote and looked to the CDU-Green coalition in the state of Baden-Württemberg as a model for possible ways of cooperation. Unfortunately, the CDU’s relative election loss turned out to be greater than predicted, elevating the Greens to a comparatively stronger bargaining position. With a defeat in the Lower Saxony state election mere weeks after the general vote, Merkel’s hands are now tied: in order to form a government and prevent snap elections likely to hurt the CDU further, the Greens are 

With the Conservatives thus caught in the middle, the Green Party has skillfully played their cards and may have already scored a victory over Germany’s “iron lady.” Commentators believe that in order for the Greens to agree to coalition talks with such high-stakes for everyone involved, the CDU had to acquiesce acquiesce to one of the Green Party’s central demands, namely dropping its support for the re-approval of glyphosate for European use.

Glyphosate has long been a thorn in the side of the Greens and one of the most politicized issues in recent political debate. For years, Germany’s Green Party has run vocal campaigns against the use of the herbicide. In 2015, the Greens had the breast milk of women tested for glyphosate, with the predictable result that all samples contained “unacceptable levels” of the substance. Bärbel Höhn, Green Party member and then chair of the Parliamentary Environmental Committee, promptly called on the government to ban glyphosate. Meanwhile, the academic who had conducted the survey stated that no conclusions could be drawn from it because of its meager sample size – 16 women, one for every federal state.

The Greens, however, are not known for being deterred by such blatant shortfalls in academic rigor. While the influence of their traditional positions has been waning in Germany’s socio-political context in recent years, a Jamaica coalition will nevertheless raise their profile beyond the national stage, with significant effects on the European level. Just like their German spiritual compatriots, the Green faction in the European Parliament is staffed with vociferous critics of glyphosate. This tie-up will provide them with a much welcome ideological boost and, by virtue of Germany being the EU’s most powerful country, a steadfast back up.

The European Greens were emboldened to fire salvo after salvo at glyphosate ever since the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a study in 2015 that labeled the substance “probably carcinogenic.” In the two years since, major international regulatory bodies have disputed IARC’s conclusions with a plethora of studies of their own that found no link between glyphosate and cancer. European consumer protection institutions, such as the European Chemical Agency European Chemical Agency (ECHA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), likewise concluded that glyphosate poses no carcinogenic risk.

Faced with such overwhelming scientific evidence, the debate should have been settled then and there. Instead, Green MEPs switched tactics and accused EFSA of withholding access to studies included in EFSA’s assessment, but not available to the public. Decrying this as a lack of transparency on the agency’s part, MEPs are claiming that EFSA is “doing secret science”, prompting an emotional response from EFSA chief Dr Bernhard Url in which he bitterly criticized criticized the allegations as 

It is noteworthy that allegations against EFSA come at a time when IARC itself is on the defensive. Compared to other agencies that assessed glyphosate’s carcinogenic potential, IARC has been proven to act in a rather opaque and unscientific manner to reach a desired conclusion. For example, a recent Reuters report revealed that a draft of a vital section of IARC’s glyphosate study “underwent significant changes and deletions” before the monograph was published. According to the report, references to studies that had found no link between glyphosate and cancer in laboratory animals were removed from the final version. This was a highly critical omission since the evaluation of human carcinogenicity was directly derived from the animal pathology results.

However, to no one’s surprise the Greens at the German and European level are impervious to the allegations levied at IARC. Seeing how environmentalist fervor is set to gain traction across the EU, they also have little incentive to change their ways. And although a Jamaica government is not yet set in stone, with Merkel’s position weakened, the Greens’ boost is likely allowing them to ignore revelations surrounding IARC over broader scientific consensus.

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