It was 2013 in Southern Italy when the killer bacterium of Xylella fastidiosa had begun to spread throughout the Apulian countryside. The results were hundreds of thousands of dead olive trees and a severe blow to the region which was already in a difficult economic situation.
In February 2018, the Italian government’s response was the promulgation of a decree called “Xylella”, which allowed the use of very dangerous pesticides to fight the olive tree disease. However, even such a despicable problem that caused about 223 million in monetary losses in two years for the Apulian olive-oil sector, could not justify the use of hazardous substances for the population, the soil, the water, the bees, and the olive trees themselves.
On this occasion, the Court of Justice of the European Union was called upon to assess whether Italy had failed to meet the obligations stemming from the Plant Health Directive and Decision 2015/789/EU, when aiming to inhibit the plant’s spread pathogen Xylella fastidiosa in Apulia. The CJEU found that the EU Member State had failed to properly remove infected plants and monitor the pathogen’s presence in the 20km strip dividing the infected zone from the buffer zone. However, the Court also stated that in proceedings brought under Article 258, the burden of proof lies on the Commission, which may not rely on any presumption to demonstrate the State’s failure to meet EU law obligations. The Italian authorities are now expected to comply with the Court’s ruling, as financial sanctions may be imposed at a later stage.
Recently, the European Union launched a new regulation that introduces important innovations in the fight against Xylella, especially on replanting. By removing certain limits, the measure will preserve the extraordinary olive-growing biodiversity in Apulia, one of the most biodiverse regions in the Mediterranean. Another important novelty is the more effective molecular analysis for detecting infected plants which is less subject to the risk of false positives.
It is vital that we remember that good intentions do not always justify bad means and that as civil society, we have the power to use legal tools to protect our planet.
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