Workshop A1: Democracy lives by participation - case in point gene technology

Saturday, April, 25th 2009, Start: 9:00 a.m. with a short break to 12:00 a.m., lunch break, 2nd part starting at 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Workshop languages: English, German

Organiser and Moderator:

Christof Potthof (Mr.) (GENET, Gen-ethical Network, Berlin, Germany)


Aarhus Convention:
Ilya Trombitsky (Mr.), Eco-TIRAS International Environmental Association, Moldova
 Presentation: GMO Almaty Amendment to Aarhus Convention – what outcomes for NGOs are? (pdf, 61 KB, English)
Fiona Marshall (Ms.), Aarhus Convention secretariat, Geneva
 Presentation: The Aarhus Convention and GMOs (pdf, 165 KB, English)

Active at home, effective in Brussels and elsewhere:
Christoph Fischer (Mr.), Zivilcourage - civil courage <>- Rosenheim, Germany ;
Urs Hans (Mr.), Public eye on Science, Schweiz <>

Science and research agendas:
Claudia Neubauer (Ms.) (Fondation Sciences Citoyennes, Paris, France)


Under the title “Democracy lives by particiption“ the workshop will cover three issues of participation:
–    Participation in national and international law: Aarhus Concention - participation, information and access to justice
–    Participation of the movement/ of the people at the local level: active at home, effective in Brussels and elsewhere
–    Partcipation in research issues/ participation by setting research agendas

It’s incredible, for years polls had shown the same results. European people do not want genetically modified plants. Not in the fields, not at the plates as products. Again and again, large and small initiatives, in Brussels or in the countryside of EU member states,  thousands of people are active against the use of genetic engineering in agriculture and food production - in Europe and all over the world. Nevertheless the European Commission in Brussels seems to work for the big gene giants - Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and so on. Together with the European Food Safety Authority EFSA the commision wants to notify one new gmo event after the other.

Many people do see a general lack of democracy, and some argue this is part of symptomatic distance between the EU cosmos and the people in the member states.

With the three political issues - Aarhus Convention, active at home - effective in Brussels and elsewhere, and science agendas - the workshop participants discuss the characteristics of this lack of democracy, and what should be done to overcome it. What kind of participation in area of agriculture, gmos, and food production do we think of? What are our ”prerequisites” for participation?

Aarhus Convention
Participation starts with infomation. Therefore this workshop starts with the Aarhus Convention and its Almaty Amendment on gmos (for news visit the conventions website: The Aarhus Convention under the umbrella of the United Nations (UNECE, please visit provides a (in international law unique) access to information with relevance for the environment (“environmental information“). The Almaty Amendment expands the convention explicitly on the issue of genetically modyfied organisms, in concrete terms on the release of gmos to the environment. Beneath the right to access to environmental information the Aarhus Convention has two more pillars: participation, and access to justice.

With respect to participation the convention states:
”that, in the field of the environment, improved access to information and public participation in decision-making enhance the quality and the implementation of decisions”.

Active at home, effective in Brussels and elsewhere
The number of GE free regions, zones, and initiatives is growing day by day: as coalitions between farmers, as cooperations between agricultural organisations, consumers groups, and environmental NGO, as regional or local entities ... The european movement against genetic engineering in agricultural products is diverse and loud.

But Brussels does just as Brussels like. The EU Commission tries to push member states to notify and accept new gmos. Other EU organisations, e.g. EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, notoriously ignore those research results, that show risks or negative effects connected with the use of gmo.

In some regions nearly all farmers don’t want GE seeds, nevertheless GE free regions, zones, and initiatives are not protected.

The research agendas of the European Union and the member states support gene and biotechnologies - for years. With money from the European Research Framework projects are being supported, that are not within peoples interest. At the same time projects for a sustainable and low input agriculture had not enough been taken into consideration.

Participation is a word from a foreign country when you are looking into the rules for the setting of an research agenda. If it’s in there at all, they call it stakeholder-whatever. But what’s behind, who are inside, are always the usual suspects from industry, science, and government agencies, for an example see the european technology platform “Plants for the Future“ (


(1) In the workshop we would like to check, if the Aarhus Convention might be a tool for the participation of civil society groups, non governmental organisations, and local activists.
(2) What could be the ways that make our local work effective in Brussels?
(3) A step for the enhancement of participation in science and research, in setting the agendas, is the building of a network of scientists, who want to strengthen the interest of the citizens and the independant research. This network will be presented.

Background and literature: