ENDS Europe DAILY, 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 practice".

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 compromise.

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.