EurActiv, October 11, 2006
BUSINESS ANXIOUS AFTER REACH VOTE
[Rachel's introduction: Latest news on REACH: The phase out of toxic chemicals as supported in the [European] Parliament's Environment Committee is causing anxiety among business organisations but has been welcomed by health organisations, environmental groups and trade unions.]
Chemicals Policy review (REACH)
Parties unite on EU chemicals safety law (REACH)
The draft REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) proposes that manufacturers and importers of chemicals produce health and safety tests for around 30,000 chemical substances currently on the EU market over an 11-year period.
The bill is now entering a crucial second-reading phase in the European Parliament with a final endorsement by EU ministers likely before the end of the year.
The Parliament's chief negotiator on REACH, the Italian socialist Guido Sacconi MEP, received a massive show of support in the Parliament's Environment Committee on 10 October, winning 42 votes out of 63.
Here are the main elements agreed by the Committee:
** Mandatory substitution of the most toxic substances whenever this is economically and socially acceptable;
** a review of authorisations granted to these chemicals every five years in order that they are eventually replaced;
** a 'Duty of care' principle to ensure that producers and importers of chemicals take responsibility for the safety of their products when the risks can be "reasonably foreseen";
** the introduction of a European 'REACH quality label', to be proposed by the Commission after REACH is approved, so that products complying with the EU law can be easily identified by consumers;
** the promotion of alternatives to animal testing, and;
** support measures for small businesses.
The European Chemicals Industry Council (CEFIC) said that the substitution of toxic chemicals as voted by the Committee would "lead to the banning of certain substances even though there are clear socio-economic benefits and no alternative is available".
"This situation could encourage a lot of producers to move out of Europe," CEFIC warned.
However, it also believes it is now "time that the regulation finally gets adopted", and joined the socialists' calls for the Council and Parliament to "avoid conciliation".
For CEFIC, the key could reside in clarifying certain definitions, as was already suggested by Guido Sacconi an interview with EurActiv earlier this month.
"Providing a clearer understanding of the concept of 'adequate control' [of dangerous substances] and a definition of 'safe alternatives' [to them], could pave the way for a final solution that would be workable and improve the protection of health and the environment," CEFIC said.
UNICE, the European employers' union, said that it was "disappointed" that the Committee disregarded the Council's views on substitution which are "based on the concept of adequate control of risk".
It also called on EU lawmakers to sit down at the negotiating table. "The European Parliament, Council and Commission must continue their efforts to achieve a cost-effective and workable REACH before the plenary," said UNICE President Ernest-Antoine Seilliere.
Unilever, the Dutch company with well-known brands in the detergents, soap and food sector, welcomed the vote, saying REACH "constitutes a unique opportunity to simplify existing chemical legislation while enhancing consumer confidence in chemicals".
Unilever now urges EU lawmakers in the Parliament and Council to move on and "find consensus" on a final version of REACH "that truly serves the interests of European Consumers".
UEAPME, the European small-businesses association -- which represents both small chemical producers and downstream manufacturers who use chemicals in their products -- was only partially encouraged by the vote.
"According to UEAPME, the Environment Committee showed consideration for European SMEs by clarifying clauses on cost sharing and approving proposals facilitating the implementation of REACH by small businesses. Furthermore, MEPs appropriately shunned dangerous plans to extend the deadline for data liberalisation from ten to fifteen years".
But it added that the Committee "overlooked a crucial issue for SMEs by rejecting calls for an independent evaluation of the opt-outs" from the OSOR system (One Substance One Registration) which forces companies to share registration fees when filing an application for a similar substance.
"UEAPME regretted that the European Chemicals Agency will ultimately not be responsible for assessing exceptions" to the OSOR system.
On the other hand, small businesses "greeted with satisfaction" the "clarifications" brought to the way registration fees are to be shared under OSOR. Following the Committee's vote, the higher the production or import volume of a chemical, the higher the share.
"Today's vote on REACH entails some positive elements for European small businesses, albeit not quite to the extent we hoped it would," said Guido Lena, UEAPME director for environmental policy. In particular, UEAPME said that: "Burdensome procedures on substances produced in smaller quantities will nullify their benefits and put a further strain on SMEs working with chemicals in Europe."
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said it supported the Committee's vote, saying the substitution principle is "wholly in line with European Carcinogens Directive 2004/37/EC which requires employers to replace these dangerous substances where a safer alternative is available".
Environmental groups WWF and Greenpeace -- together with women's, health and consumer organisations, welcomed the vote was "a vital step towards protecting health and the environment from chemical contamination".
For them, the vote "sends a strong message back to the [EU Council of Ministers] that MEPs remain determined that chemicals of very high concern should be replaced with safer alternatives whenever possible". They said a legal obligation to do so would only "drive innovation" in safer chemicals, not hamper industrial activity.
WWF also welcomed the inclusion of a "duty of care" principle to make chemical producers responsible for the safety of their products, as well as the Committee's backing for more information for consumers about chemicals in everyday products.
Latest & next steps:
14 November 2006: Expected vote in Parliament plenary.
4 December 2006: Probable vote in Council (Competitiveness) and final approval of REACH.
If the Parliament and Council fail to agree, a special Conciliation Committee will be convened to iron out remaining differences.
EU official documents
[European] Parliament (Press release): REACH: firm stand by Environment Committee at second reading (10 Oct. 2006)
[European] Parliament: Report: REACH recommendation for second reading, Guido Sacconi MEP [Member of the European Parliament](23 June 2006)
EU Actors positions
European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC): Environment Committee Vote in 2nd reading hampers ability of REACH to achieve its goals (10 Oct. 2006)
UNICE: REACH vote in the Environment Committee: Authorisation and substitution create serious problems for industry (10 Oct. 2006)
UEAPME: REACH: EP Environment Committee vote delivers mixed results for SMEs (10 Oct. 2006)
European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC): REACH: ETUC calls on Council to go with Parliament on substitution principle (10 Oct. 2006)
WWF / Euro Coop / EEB / Greenpeace et al.: REACH -- European Parliament committee backs safer chemicals rules (10 Oct. 2006)
Parties unite on EU chemicals safety law (REACH) (10 October 2006)
Business gearing up for new EU chemicals policy (06 October 2006)
Chemicals: Does the consumer know? (06 October 2006)
UK Tory leader switches to REACH (05 October 2006)
Chemical imbalance? SMEs still worried about REACH (05 October 2006)
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