Protecting pollinators in the EU

Briefing 19-07-2021

Europe hosts a rich diversity of wild pollinators, including over 2 000 species of bees, more than 480 species of butterflies, almost 1 000 species of hoverflies and thousands of other insect species. In the European Union (EU), 78 % of native flora and 84 % of crops are either partially or fully dependent on insects for pollination. Significant pollinator loss has been documented over time across the EU. According to the European Red List of Bees, around 9 % of all bee species are threatened in the EU. The EU grassland butterfly indicator has recorded a 39 % decline in grassland butterfly abundance since 1990. Studies in selected European countries have provided further examples of pollinator declines. Such loss entails risks for both societies and ecosystems. EU legislation relevant to pollinator protection includes the Habitats Directive; the regulatory framework on pesticides; and the common agricultural policy (CAP). The EU rules governing the approval of pesticides require consideration of pesticide effects on honeybees. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) is currently reviewing its 2013 guidance on the risk assessment of pesticides on bees, which was never formally adopted due to insufficient support from Member States. One key aspect of the review process is the setting of specific protection goals, defining the maximum acceptable level of harm to bees, on which EU ministers have recently agreed. Assessments of action at EU level identified gaps in the key EU policies addressing the main threats to wild pollinators. Although progress has been made in the implementation of the EU pollinators initiative (EPI), adopted in 2018 to tackle the decline of wild pollinators, more needs to be done, in particular to address the loss of habitats in farming landscapes and the impacts of pesticides. The EU Biodiversity and the Farm to Fork strategies set out specific targets that can help advance pollinator conservation. Integrating them into the new CAP however remains a major challenge. Pollinator protection is a key issue for the European Parliament, which made clear that the revision of the EFSA bee guidance document should ensure a level of protection at least equivalent to that laid down in 2013. Parliament also called for an urgent revision of the EU pollinators initiative, a ban on all neonicotinoid-based pesticides and the inclusion of EU-wide binding pesticide reduction targets in the upcoming revision of the directive on the sustainable use of pesticides.