ENDS Europe DAILY  [Printer-friendly version]
October 10, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Jubilant environmentalists hailed the
committee vote on REACH as a "vital step towards protecting health
and environment from chemical contamination." The chemical
manufacturing sector will be wincing but consumer product maker
Unilever, a big downstream user of chemicals, welcomed the vote.]

The European parliament's environment committee has adopted a string
of strongly pro-environment changes to EU governments' first-reading
position on the Reach chemical policy reform. The move is likely to
force significant concessions from governments as the Reach
negotiations enter their final stages.

Voting at its second reading of the law on Tuesday morning, the
committee repeated the parliament's earlier insistence on stronger
rules for replacing dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives. But
it went further by reversing the parliament's acceptance of several
concessions to industry that were adopted by the council of ministers
(see sidebar, below).

Italian socialist rapporteur MEP Guido Sacconi, who saw the committee
back almost all of his proposals, called the move a "politically
respectable decision". The package of changes was backed by 42 votes
to 12, with six abstentions. But his counterpart from the centre-
right EPP party, Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, complained that the
committee's version of Reach would be "almost impossible to put into

The vote will trigger talks between the parliament and council of
ministers as they seek to avoid entering the conciliation procedure, a
politically-hazardous process of last-minute horse-trading that would
delay adoption of Reach. Diplomats meet on Thursday and Friday to
discuss the outcome of the vote.

Had the committee's support for changes to the ministerial position
been weaker, governments might have been tempted to gamble that the
parliament's plenary assembly, which tends to take a more conservative
line on environment policy, would reject them. This would have
allowed the ministerial position to enter force largely intact.

But the scale of changes suggested by the committee is such that
governments are likely to seek a deal that could be endorsed by both
the plenary session and by ministers. Mr Sacconi predicted that the
chances of avoiding conciliation were now 70 per cent. Other
parliamentary sources said the council would be almost certain to

The talks will focus on Reach's authorisation provisions. The
rapporteur gave a hint of his bottom line in the talks: as a minimum
there should be an assessment of alternatives for all substances of
high concern, and authorisations should not be granted if they are
found to be available, he said.

Jubilant environmentalists hailed the committee vote as a "vital step
towards protecting health and environment from chemical
contamination." The chemical manufacturing sector will be wincing but
consumer product maker Unilever, a big downstream user of chemicals,
welcomed the vote. Organisations representing small and medium-sized
business said the result contained both positives and negatives.

Follow-up: European parliament environment committee

See also Green NGOs press release, plus releases from the
Socialists, the EPP [European People's Party], the Liberals, and
the Greens.


Sidebar: Committee's second-reading Reach vote in detail

At their second reading of the EU's Reach regulation in Brussels on
Tuesday MEPs [members of the European Parliament] on the environment
committee challenged governments by adopting a position significantly
greener than the one adopted by the parliament's plenary session last
year. In the words of one parliamentary source favouring an
environmentally robust Reach: "they kept all the good bits and threw
out all the bad bits".


Reach's scope would be expanded by including polymers under the
regulation within at the latest six years.


The committee's preferred version of this stage of Reach would place
significantly more responsibilities on firms: chemical safety reports
would be required for substances produced between 1 and 10 tonnes.
More basic data would also be required for these. More downstream
uses would have to be reported and there would be earlier registration
of some substances in the range up to 100 tonnes.


The key difference of opinion with ministers from first reading
remains: MEPs want mandatory substitution of VHCs [very high concern
chemicals] where alternatives exist. Dangerous chemicals would only
be authorised for use if there were no alternative, if the
socioeconomic benefits outweighed the risks and if the risk could be
adequately controlled. The council of ministers, meanwhile, says some
dangerous substances should continue to be used if their risks can be
controlled, irrespective of whether alternatives exist.

In addition the parliament said authorisations should be limited to
five years, that they should always be accompanied by a substitution
plan, and that all dangerous substances should appear on a candidate
list of substances for authorisation. The parliament would be able to
veto European commission decisions on authorisations. Nanoparticles
would be covered by authorisation, but ores and concentrates would be
exempt. There would be earlier restrictions on substances of very
high concern (VHCs) contained in imported consumer articles.


There would be a general and legally binding duty of care on
manufacturers to make, handle and use their products in ways that do
not harm health or the environment.


The promotion of non-animal testing would be included as an overall
objective of Reach. There would be automatic replacement of animal
tests as soon as alternatives were available.