EurActiv  [Printer-friendly version]
October 11, 2006


[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


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

"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

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

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.

WWF / Euro Coop / EEB / Greenpeace et al.: REACH -- European
Parliament committee backs safer chemicals rules (10 Oct. 2006)

Related Documents

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)

Copyright EurActiv 2000-2005