German officials disobeyed orders to abstain in a vote about renewing the licence of a controversial weedkiller linked to cancer, according to a Berlin minister.
Just two weeks after the European Commission failed to secure a majority, an intervention on Monday meant 18 of 28 EU states were now in favour and glyphosate was granted a new five-year licence.
Germany had been expected to abstain again, but agricultural minister Christian Schmidt has been accused of defying instructions by environment minister Barbara Hendricks after he voted in favour.
In the latest sign of tensions in Chancellor Merkel’s bid to form a government, Ms Hendricks said she “declared clearly” to Mr Schmidt that she “did not agree with an extension of the renewal of glyphosate”, but he then “received another instruction than the one which was agreed between us”.
Mr Schmidt is from the Merkel-allied CSU party, while Ms Hendricks is part of the Social Democrats.
The Social Democrats initially refused joining another coalition government with the Chancellor before saying on Friday they were again open to holding talks.
A Brussels source said Germany’s change of heart was down to “assurances on animal welfare and private use of the weedkiller”.
Environmental campaigners have criticised the outcome.
The EU was last month handed a Greenpeace petition with 1.3 million signatures calling for glyphosate to be banned after a World Health Organisation study found it was “probably carcinogenic”.
Adrien Bebb, of Friends of the Earth Europe, described the vote as “a missed opportunity”, and Phillipe Lamberts, leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, tweeted: “Public health sacrificed again for profit.”
Glyphosate – introduced under the name Roundup by US agriculture giant Monsanto in 1974 – previously had a 15-year licence but it expired in June 2016.
Divisions over its use meant that only an 18-month extension was agreed, which was due to expire in December.
German chemical firm Bayer had been hoping for a 15-year extension rather than five, with Monsanto insisting that it met the required standards.
The European Food Safety Authority and European Chemicals Agency have both said it is “unlikely” to cause cancer in humans.
However, French President Emmanuel Macron reacted to Monday’s vote by saying he would do whatever necessary to ensure the weed killer is banned in his country within three years.
France was against the proposal and wanted a shorter licence granted.