EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 29 The European Seed Association (ESA) has been active in its engagement with the Commission from the moment the first consultation procedure was launched, and suggested a clear and sen- sible way to both collect more data on organic seed and also to start phasing out derogations. It was underpinned by an EU-wide database, and a classifica- tion system with three categories based on the availability of organic seed that would have seen derogations prohibited for some species and sub species where there is already a wide availability of seed and phasing out others more gradually where there is still limited availability. Unfortunately, the Commission did not take on board this more targeted approach in its proposal, and cited cost as an obsta- cle to the development of EU-wide data collection systems. ESA adapted by seek- ing to bring its suggestions to the political debate via the institutions of the European Parliament and Council of the EU (repre- senting Member States) as they began their scrutiny of the proposal. ESA’s dealings with the European Parliament were challenging. The Parliament’s team was led by Green MEP Martin Häusling who both refused to meet with ESA and failed to invite it to participate in a “stakeholder roundtable event” he had organised with the rest of the negotiating team. Due to limited engagement from the other main politi- cal groups on those issues relevant to the seed sector, the European Parliament eventually adopted its mandate based on a text which sought to challenge the seed marketing directives and introduce pro- visions which would have run counter to existing rules. ESA’s dealings with the Member States in the Council were more success- ful, but still challenging. Most followed a consistent – and welcome – approach whereby whatever text was included on seeds, it should be compatible with the existing seed legislation. Unfortunately, a number of countries, keen to maintain national rules and practices, were quite preoccupied by some of the Commission’s ‘harmonisation’ proposals, and thus did not view seeds as a priority. It is for this reason that issues relevant to the seed sector were not fully addressed in the negotiations until close to the end. Negotiators from the three institu- tions took almost 20 months, 18 formal “trilogue” negotiations, plus numerous bilateral and staff working group meet- ings before a political agreement was finally reached on 28 June 2017. In addition to reflecting some of the Commission’s objectives on official controls and a stricter approach to imports, the final agreement also includes several provisions of particular relevance and importance to the seed and plant breeding sector. The one positive outcome of the Parliament’s approach to seeds was that it put them higher up the agenda than the Commission had perhaps initially intended. Eventually this led to a broad agreement between the three institu- tions: there is a need to gather data on the availability of organic seeds, and to improve the supply and use of those organic seeds. This is reflected in Article 19a of the text which states that national databases where operators can list avail- able organic seeds and plant reproductive material will be linked up via a central EU Commission website. This would be the first time that such information would be made available at a centralised EU-level access point and is a highly welcome achievement. The estab- lishment of an EU-wide database will allow operators to potentially reach a wider European market than perhaps was previ- ously possible; it will also be easier to tell from the database whether or not organic seed is actually being used by farmers. However, the new provisions will require efforts from the seed sector and Member States to be successful. The fact that it is not mandatory to list informa- tion in the national database may lead to an inaccurate – albeit more accurate than at present – representation of the market situation. Thus, the effectiveness of the database will depend on the willingness and capacity of seed producers to provide information, and on the efforts taken by Member States to encourage and facili- tate the implementation of these meas- ures by seed producers. Part of the ESA team promoting the ‘Embracing the Power of Nature’ campaign, fltr: Petra Jorasch, Kate Wilson, Szonja Csörg , Garlich von Essen, Christophe Rouillard, Catherine Lang’at, Amalia Kafka.