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Cooperation by Stealth? Promises and Pitfalls of the EU Approach to the Sustainable Use of Pesticides

Environmental Policy
Governance
Policy Implementation
Emanuela Bozzini
Università degli Studi di Trento
Emanuela Bozzini
Università degli Studi di Trento

Abstract

A major goal of EU pesticide policy is ‘to achieve a sustainable use of pesticides by reducing the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment and promoting the use of integrated pest management and of alternative approaches or techniques such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides’ (Directive 128/09 Art. 1). To this end, EU regulation foresees a complex mix of EU-wide measures on approved active substances, national provisions on authorization and monitoring of commercial formulations, and locally agreed rules and practices on permissible uses on the part of farmers. This complex governance regime stems from the idea that while intrinsic hazards of pesticides can be determined by uniform criteria and procedures assessed at EU level, actual risks for public health and environmental goods are localised and directly depends on patterns of use at farm level. Consequently, for a significant reduction of pesticide-related risks to be achieved, two factors are deemed necessary: vertical cooperation across territorial levels of governance and horizontal cooperation among local actors. Indeed, my argument is that EU regulation is based on what I term ‘cooperation by stealth’: it explicitly mandates the adoption of a cooperative approach to improve the sustainability of pesticide use, while it rules out policy alternatives, like for example the adoption of legally binding targets for chemical input reduction and market-based instruments like a pesticide tax. This paper draws on the literature on sustainability of socio-ecological systems and EU multi-level governance to critically discuss promises and pitfalls of this peculiar institutional arrangement. The paper argues that ‘cooperation by stealth’ has its merits but that it is prone to fall short of its expectations. Whereas it takes into account differences in ecological and agronomical conditions, it does not properly consider social and political characteristics that enable effective, long term cooperative action, self-organisation and learning across horizontal and vertical dimensions of governance. To illustrate this argument, the paper first presents a map of the vast network of EU, national, regional and local institutions, stakeholders and public interest groups that intervene with various roles to determine the type, quantity, methods and modes of authorised applications of pesticides on the part of individual farmers. Second, the paper illustrates how ‘cooperation by stealth’ played out in Trentino, an alpine region devoted to intensive apple and wine production, where pesticide use has been constantly and consistently at high levels over the years. Empirical findings show serious shortcomings in the implementation of EU pesticide regulation and allow for a broader reflection on the legislative approaches to agricultural ecosystem services in a fragmented, multi-level system.