EU softens chemicals bill, alarms green groups
26th September 2003
BRUSSELS - The European Commission has softened plans for new environmental rules on chemicals which industry and big EU governments have slammed as costly and unworkable, a leaked draft document showed yesterday.
Green groups said the Commission, the European Union's executive arm, had weakened a preliminary proposal it published in May, endangering the effectiveness of what they say is the most crucial environmental issue facing EU lawmakers.
"They (industry and sceptical governments including the United States) got 90 percent of what they wanted," Stefan Scheuer of the European Environmental Bureau told a news conference.
The campaigners, which included WWF, Friends of the Earth and European consumers' association BEUC, said the bill to control hazardous chemicals now had "loopholes" that would allow firms to skirt around some of the main requirements.
"The new text would allow industry to continue using chemicals that accumulate in breast milk, reduce fertility and cause allergies," said Greenpeace's Jorgo Iwasaki Riss.
The Commission made the changes to its initial draft after receiving more than 6,000 comments from firms, governments, campaign groups and individuals since May. Interested parties were invited to comment on the workability of the draft.
Commission spokesman Per Haugaard said the new version, agreed by the commissioners for environment and industry, Margot Wallstrom and Erkki Liikanen, was "well balanced," with some changes aimed at reducing the cost of the new system.
The Commission is due to formally issue the bill by the end of this month and it could be amended in the mean time. The bill would establish a system called Reach (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) under which all chemicals produced in quantities of more than one ton per year would have to be registered or be banned.
Substances of particular concern, such as those that cause cancer, damage genes or affect fertility, or ones that persist and accumulate in the environment would be subject to a deeper evaluation and in some cases have to acquire a special permit to be used.
Some 30,000 substances would have to be registered, at a cost estimated by the Commission at two billion euros ($2.3 billion) over a decade.
The EU's 385 billion chemicals sector said the bill would damage its global competitiveness and called for big changes.
Last week, the leaders of the EU's three biggest countries, Germany, France and Britain, backed that view in a letter to the Commission demanding "substantial changes" to the bill which they accused of being bureaucratic, complex and unworkable.
EU governments share legislative powers with the European Parliament on the bill and can amend or even throw it out.
Green groups said they were concerned by four main changes to the text: