©  ClientEarth

© ClientEarth

How some Member States are threatening bees by allowing the use of prohibited pesticides and how the Commission does nothing to stop them

Member States are ignoring the ban on bee-harming pesticides and are continuing to use them across Europe. The Commission has the power to curb this alarming trend, however, it is doing nothing to stop it.  

The high honey bee colony mortality rate across the EU has been repeatedly linked to pesticide use, particularly neonicotinoid insecticides. Neonicotinoids are a class of systemic pesticides that are taken up by plants and transported to all tissues, consequently making all parts of the plant poisonous to pests.

As a result of overwhelming evidence, four bee-harming pesticides (including 3 neonicotinoids and 1 other pesticide) were banned across Europe in 2013. The ban of these pesticides is crucial to assist the recovery of bee populations in the face of dramatic declines. 

Unfortunately, Member States are using a provision in a piece of EU legislation (the Plant Protection Products Regulation) to circumvent the ban on bee-harming pesticides.  This provision says that Member States can grant ‘emergency authorisations’ to use non-authorised pesticides in ‘emergency situations’.

This means that where there is an ‘emergency’, for example, an infestation of a pest that cannot be controlled any other way, Member States can use bee-harming pesticides.

Member States are not using this provision in the correct way as envisaged by the law. Since bee-harming pesticides were banned in 2013, Member States have granted an alarming 62 emergency authorisations for bee-harming pesticides.

Beelife, ClientEarth and PAN Europe have obtained the documents that Member States submit to the Commission each time they authorise a bee-harming pesticide. These documents reveal the following:

1. Member States are not proving that there are ‘emergency situations’ that require the pesticide use

The majority of Member States are systematically failing to provide the Commission with the information required to prove that the use of a bee-harming pesticide is necessary because of an emergency.

Member States must show the Commission that there is a danger to agricultural production, for example a pest, which cannot be controlled in any other way, except by using a pesticide that is not authorised.  Also, because of the harm that the pesticides can cause, Member States must also prove that the pesticide will be used in a limited and controlled way.

The majority of Member States do not provide the Commission with any information to prove that:

  1. there is a danger to their crop;
  2. there are no other ways of controlling the danger; and
  3. the pesticide use will be limited and controlled (in terms of area and mitigation).

Because Member States do not do this, they are not complying with EU law.

2. The Commission is allowing Member States to get around the ban

It is within the Commissions power to question the emergency use of a bee-harming pesticide but it has never done so.

When a Member State provides information to the Commission on an emergency authorisation, the Commission can ask the Environmental Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) for an opinion on this information. The Commission also has the power to propose that a Member State withdraw the use of the pesticide.

As discussed above, the information provided to the Commission has been systematically deficient and as a result, Member States are not complying with their obligations under the law. However, the Commission has never used its power to question an application or even request more information from the Member State. 

The Commission is choosing to ignore inadequate notifications that are clearly being used to circumvent the bans and as a consequence, they are condemning bee populations to further decline.

3. The pesticide and seed industry are applying for most of the emergency authorisations

The Commission has said that:

emergency use[s of non-approved pesticides] are meant solely to be in the interest of agriculture, environment and governments. Applications solely based on industry interests should be refused.’

The Commission is not heeding its own advice, as a staggering 44% of the emergency authorisations notified were granted illegally because they were applied for by pesticides companies, seed producers’ associations or trading companies alone. The remaining 42% of applications were joint applications between farmer’s organisations and seed or pesticide companies.

This means that 86% of emergency authorisation applications for bee-harming pesticides in the EU were made with the participation of (and probably driven by) industry interests.

Only 14% of applications were made by farmers or public authorities, independent from industry vested interests. 

This means that the industry is utilising the exception in the legislation as a loophole to get around the ban.


In light of the continuous abuses of Article 53 over the years, it is clear that it is not used in cases of emergency by Member States but rather to maintain the current highly polluting conventional farming system.

We call on the Commission to properly implement the provisions of the Pesticides Regulation so that Member States cannot exploit it as back door to using illegal pesticides. The Commission should:

  • Ask Member States to send complete and detailed notifications complying with the law.
  • Use its power to scrutinise the notifications submitted by Member States and ask for scientific or technical opinions from other EU bodies.
  • Propose to withdraw emergency authorisations that do not comply with the law.
  • Challenge emergency authorisations that are made on behalf of industry, even as a co-applicant.
  • Immediately publish notifications, so that Member States are subject to public scrutiny, and are therefore incentivised to promote greater environmental protection.


The EU prides itself on having one of the strictest regulatory systems in the world concerning the approval of pesticides. However, as a result of the Commission’s leniency, the continued emergency authorisation of bee-harming pesticides is making a mockery of the legislator’s decision to ban these products.

The ‘business as usual’ approach, taken by the Commission and Member States, is threatening the ability of the bans to be effective and is exposing bee populations across Europe to further harm.

If Member States grant emergency authorisations and do not provide the required information to show that the use of pesticide is an emergency, they will be breaching EU law and such cannot continue to be condoned by the European Commission.