It is being reported that the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will decide, in a meeting on Tuesday, to delay the planned publication of a revised EU chemicals law REACH from early 2023 to the end of 2023, and to refocus it on German industry concerns, casting doubt on the future of the European Green Deal’s toxic free agenda. By publishing the proposal so late it would be impossible for European Parliament to conclude its discussions before its election in Spring 2024.
- Update 18th October: As previewed in this blog, the Commission’s work plan for 2023 published on 18th October states that the Commission aims to publish the revised REACH proposal in Quarter 4 2023, a delay on previous plans. However, Commissioner Šefcovic stated to the European Parliament that “I can assure you that once this file is ready, we will not hesitate, we will present it to the Parliament and to the Council”. CHEM Trust welcomes this commitment and encourages the Commission to move rapidly to complete and publish the legislative proposal.
This revision of REACH, which CHEM Trust has welcomed, includes plans to speed up the identification and control of the most hazardous chemicals in consumer products, and to start to address the reality of our exposure to mixtures.
CHEM Trust’s Executive Director Dr Michael Warhurst said:
“People and the environment are not properly protected from the most hazardous chemicals as the current EU REACH is too slow and too weak. We need to end these harmful exposures and incentivise the chemical industry to innovate towards safer alternatives.
This suggested delay may not sound like much, but it would mean that the current European Parliament cannot discuss the measures, and the implementation of the new laws would be delayed by at least 1 or 2 years later. The next Commission could even try to modify or withdraw the proposal.”
The revised REACH proposal was most recently timetabled for release in first quarter 2023, which would have given enough time for a first reading in the Parliament, a Council Common position in 2024 and then an agreement between Council and the new Parliament in 2025, followed by entry into force in late 2026 or 2027. Taking away the chance for the current Parliament to discuss it will delay implementation process to at least 2028. The discussion on timing is happening as the Commission finalises its 2023 work programme.
The potential delay is happening following pressure from the German chemical industry association, the VCI, and the main conservative group in the European Parliament, the EPP. However MEPs in the whole parliament rejected a proposal for a legislative moratorium on REACH and other proposals.
This delay has echoes of the original debate on REACH 20 years ago, when exaggerated claims of costs from parts of the chemical industry, particularly in Germany and France, caused delays and weakening of the original REACH law.
For example, in April 2003 the French chemical industry association (UIC) published the results of a study done by Mercer consulting, arguing that REACH would cause a loss of French GDP of 1.7 to 3.2%, 10 years after implementation (see p28 onwards of this document). This study, and others like it from the German business association (BDI), were heavily criticised at the time but delayed the first REACH and led to its provisions being weakened. In reality, Eurostat data has shown strong growth in the EU chemical industry since REACH came into force.
We are also very concerned that the leaked draft Commission workplan has had text deleted which emphasised the importance of substituting the most harmful chemicals, and instead focusses on ‘competitive advantage’ and ‘reducing burdens’.
The von der Leyen Commission has already been accused of prioritising German economic interests over those of the broader EU on the issue of capping gas prices, particularly since the German government’s announcement of a national cap on gas prices worth 200 billion Euro, paid for by the German government. Gas prices are very important for much of the chemical industry, which is the largest industrial consumer of natural gas.
Stefan Scheuer, CHEM Trust’s Chief EU Policy Advocate, said:
“The German chemical industry has a long history of opposing EU regulation. It would be unacceptable if the EU would allow it to slowly sink the Green Deal’s toxic-free promise, while citizens are asked to support companies during the energy crisis.”
Dr Warhurst added:
“People and the environment need stronger laws to protect them from chemical pollution, as laid out in the European Green Deal. The Commission should be encouraging innovation from Europe’s companies, not delaying regulation and increasing uncertainty.”