Apparently, it’s a matter of technicality. However, a broad political and even ideological conflict could arise from the European Commission’s request to Italy for information on the developments of the law banning cultured meat. It would be ideological not so much because of the beliefs concerning food and health, but because the act adopted by Italy in November 2023 would place binding constraints on market freedom. And we know that the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people is among the cornerstones of European construction.
Indeed, derogations to the free movement of goods would be permitted where risks to public health are identified or in other specific situations, in agreement with all member states. However, in the case of cultured meat, Brussels does not see eye to eye with Italy when it comes to its possible danger. In the absence of scientific evidence to justify such claims, Brussels has sent a letter to Rome asking for further explanations.
Why did it happen?
The EU Directive, 2015/1535 obliges member states to communicate any legislative project that concerns the technical regulation of the internal market so that investigations can be carried out regarding the violation of free movement and other principles. In Article 5, in fact, the Directive states: “[…] Member States shall immediately communicate to the Commission any draft technical regulation, except where it merely transposes the full text of an international or European standard, in which case information regarding the relevant standard shall suffice; they shall also let the Commission have a statement of the grounds which make the enactment of such a technical regulation necessary, where those grounds have not already been made clear in the draft”.
The specific reasons
However, after each communication of a sensitive bill there is a period of suspension within which a state cannot definitively adopt the text. Article 6 reads: “Member States shall postpone the adoption of a draft technical regulation for three months from the date of receipt by the Commission of the communication referred to in Article 5(1)”. This is the reason that pushed Brussels to write to the Italian government.
For this reason, it is written in the Commission’s letter that the notification procedure was archived before the due time, on 29 January 2024, when the law was approved and signed by Mattarella in December 2023. However, the text was presented to the Chambers between March and April 2023. Considering the time frame, we immediately understand that the Commission believes the communication was sent later than when the parliamentary work began.
According to the letter: «The text was adopted by the Member State before the end of the suspension period referred to in Article 6 of Directive (EU) 2015/1535. The Commission therefore invites the Member State in question to inform it of the follow-up, also in light of the relevant jurisprudence of the Court of Justice. At this stage there are no further comments from the Commission».
The current climate
In short, no sanctions are foreseen and Italy is given time to adapt, but the reactions of the Italian government are certainly worth noting. Indeed, in these statements the matter is not presented as purely practical question, referring to the timing of the communication initially given and the timing of the approval of the law, but rather as an attempt to overturn the decisions of the government. Minister of Agriculture Lollobrigida stated: «As with all measures that come into force in Italy, it is up to the national judges, when applying them, to further examine their compatibility with Union law». The political substratum is quite visible.
What the Italian law says
Moreover, the Lollobrigida law is peremptory and speaks clearly. Especially in Article 2 where it is written: “it is forbidden for food sector operators and feed sector operators to use in the preparation of food, drinks and feed, sell, hold for sale, import, produce for export, administer or distribute for food consumption, food or feed consisting of, isolated or produced from cell cultures or tissues deriving from vertebrate animals”.
However, the provision aimed, in addition to protect the interests of the Italian agri-food chain, to protect citizens’ health, as indicated in the document and demonstrated by the signature, together with the Minister of Agriculture, of the Minister of Health Orazio Schillaci.
The debate certainly does not end here and will provide important insights into the relationship between the government and European institutions, and how different instances, only partially technical, are mediated between the State and the supranational institution.