Fertilising regulation: Devil is in the detail

Written by Jacob Hansen on 10 July 2017 in Thought Leader
Thought Leader

The devil, as always, is in the detail of the new fertilising regulation, argues Jacob Hansen.

Jacob Hansen | Photo credit: Fertilizers Europe


Making the internal market work in practice is a major objective for the EU, and here the European Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO) plays a key role. Many of the mechanisms are well known: we need a system with notified bodies and market surveillance, accompanied by technical specifications and criteria for the sector concerned.

But what happens when the technical specifications proposed by the European Commission are poorly prepared and rushed into for political reasons? Then the IMCO committee has to step in and do far more detailed technical work than is normal for elected politicians. 

This is exactly what has happened with the proposal for a new regulation on fertilizing products being voted in the IMCO committee this week. So spare a thought for MEPs, and especially members of the IMCO committee.


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Mineral fertilizers are today a major market in the EU, and the present regulation is based on the fact that mineral fertilizers should help grow more and better crops.

Therefore, the regulation also includes some minimum quality criteria to guarantee that mineral fertilizers are efficient. In this way farmers know what they are buying, and the single market functions well.

Regrettably, the Commission proposed - by extending the rules to other plant nutrition products like organic fertilizers or growing media - to get rid of most existing quality criteria. And so the Commission in reality has unravelled something that is currently working well today.

This is why so many amendments tabled by the IMCO members are aimed at re-creating certain quality criteria in order to make the market work. I really welcome this move. 

Mineral fertilizers also have a clear role to play in the circular economy. Millions of tonnes of chemical products are already currently recycled in the process of producing fertilizers, such as ammonium sulphate from caprolactam production and sulphuric acid from the refining of petroleum products.

However, the Commission has focused so much in its proposal on the recycling possibilities in organic waste products, that it did not ensure that the new rules allowed for the continuation of existing chemical recycling. 

Here again the IMCO committee has had to do technical work to correct this. Technical work, which will ensure that the fertilizer regulation -- part of the circular economy package - will not create new waste streams.

The compromise amendments negotiated are not perfect, but they reflect the serious attempt of the committee's rapporteur Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz and the shadow rapporteurs to improve a technically flawed proposal from the Commission, making it possible to create a well-functioning single market for fertilizers and other plant nutrition products. 

Thanks to IMCO's detailed work, the new regulation will build on what works today and will guarantee that current circular activities in our sector can continue. And that's an important contribution to the internal market.

 

About the author

Jacob Hansen is the Director General of Fertilizers Europe

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