Summary: The increasing difficulties tied in with the process of applying Directive 90/220 on the deliberate release of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment and the current review of this Directive gave rise to a European Commission debate, on December 9, in the light of a discussion paper prepared by Ritt Bjerregaard, European Commissioner for the Environment. As far as the Commission is concerned, the Member States should strive, during their December 21 Environment Council, to deal with a number of specific items and hold a policy debate on the review of the Directive. In so doing, they should bear in mind, that the European Parliament has yet to return its Opinion, so the common position cannot be adopted at this stage.

Governing the procedures for marketing GMOs, Directive 90/220 came into force on October 23, 1991. Since that time, the Member States have notified 30 products and 18 have been waved through to the market place and 12 notification procedures are still awaiting a decision. Under the terms of the Community procedure, a company seeking to market a new project has to notify the relevant national authorities so the latter may review the risks. The authorities are allowed a limited period of time to put forward any objections. After December 1997, all reports, along with any objections from the relevant national authorities, are routinely assessed by Commission-sponsored scientific committees. The Commission then adopts a Decision in the light of what the Committees have to say. In the event of any difficulties, the EU's executive arm may refer the matter to the Council of Ministers, which is allowed a certain amount of time in which to reach a decision. Should this be impossible, the Commission is required to take the decision itself. The Directive allows the Member States scope for temporarily restricting or banning the use or sale of a product on their territories, provided they let the Commission know why they have taken this decision (Article 16 of the Directive). This is the case with the decision by Austria and Luxembourg to ban the marketing of Novartis's transgenic maize within their borders. The Member States have failed to agree on this matter and the final decision therefore lies with the Commission (which has tabled a draft decision seeking to compel the pair to remove their national bans). This decision is still pending and is unlikely to be announced before the next EU debate, on December...

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