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Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka EDITOR IN CHIEF
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Merkel during the opening ceremony of Merck KGaA's Material Research Center. Wikicommons

The herbicide that could bring down Merkel

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With a Ph.D in quantum chemistry, Merkel is surely no stranger to the potential impact of chemicals in nature, but she may not have foreseen the devastating effect of an organophosphorus compound on her political career.

Europe Lessons learned

Why this story matters:

politics, environment

With a Ph.D in quantum chemistry, Merkel is surely no stranger to the potential impact of chemicals in nature, but she may not have foreseen the devastating effect of an organophosphorus compound on her political career.

Needless to say, even without a herbicide scandal, it would still have been a terrible month for the Chancellor. Her so-called “grand coalition”, which has ruled Germany since 2013, balkanized unexpectedly. The Social Democrats (SPD) are now unwilling to pursue their alliance with her own party, the Christian Democrats (CDU). Merkel is left with two unsavory options: either calling snap elections -- a gamble that could benefit the German alt-right -- or creating a minority coalition with the Greens -- an unlikely choice that would greatly undermine the country’s legendary political stability.

It is obvious to all, Merkel included, that the CDU has to reach an agreement with the SPD if the chemist-turned-politician is to retain her title of leader of the free world. However, this week’s ugly row over a herbicide called glyphosate has poisoned a budding entente. (If there ever was such a bud, which is debatable.)

On Monday, Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt voted in Brussels to extend glyphosate's approval for use in the European Union by five years, a stunning move that garnered the ire of many Social Democrats, including Barbara Hendricks, Minister for the Environment. Facing widespread outrage, Merkel had to reveal that she had no prior knowledge of the Agriculture Minister’s voting intentions, thus casting further doubts on “the conservatives and Social Democrats' ability to work together and about Merkel's leadership” -- to quote Jefferson Chase of the Deutsche Welle, whose full article is linked below.

On Thursday evening, Merkel and other conservatives held a fateful meeting with Martin Schulz, head of the SPD. No statement was made afterward, as per a previous agreement to wait until their respective parties could be informed on Friday before disclosing information publicly.

If these latest talks don't yield an agreement, a household herbicide will have been instrumental in dealing the coup de grace to Merkel’s political hopes. Meanwhile, we EU citizens will have glyphosate in our ice cream.

Details from the story:

  • As the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats debate the continuation of Germany’s “grand coalition”, a conflict over the use of glyphosate in the EU has added venom to the negotiations
  • On Monday, German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt voted in Brussels to approve the use of glyphosate for another 5 years. German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks criticized him heavily, saying he did not have the authority to make such a decision.
  • Earlier, Germany had abstained from voting on this particular issue because of its divisive character within the government.
  • It is still unclear whether or not glyphosate is a carcinogen. The Independent National Pesticide Information Center writes: "Studies on cancer rates in people have provided conflicting results on whether the use of glyphosate-containing products is associated with cancer."
  • 10 out of 28 EU member states, including France, voted against the use of glyphosate on Monday.

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