06 May 2003 13:38 [Source: ICIS news]
LONDON (CNI)--The chemical industry has been accused of delaying tactics and "extreme scaremongering" in the run-up to the expected publication on Wednesday (7 May) of draft chemicals control legislation by the European Commission (EC).
The EC’s chemicals white paper proposals take a major step forward tomorrow when Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom and her counterpart at DG Enterprise (Europe’s directorate general for enterprise), Commissioner Erkki Liikanen, present a joint ‘orientation paper’ outlining the draft legislation and give details of a period of internet consultation on the draft.
The EC had proposed a five-week consultation period but industry has pressed for eight weeks. The whole drafting process could be delayed if industry’s calls for an extended period of consultation is accepted, according to environmental groups the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the World Wildlife Fund’s European Policy office, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (FoE) and BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany).
"Further delay would make it practically impossible for the Commission to adopt a proposal in July, and difficult for the Parliament (European Parliament) to have any debate on the proposal before the 2004 elections," the environmental NGOs (non-governmental organisations) said.
"While the new chemicals policy is delayed, the environment and the public continue to be exposed to chemicals of very high concern," they maintained.
European governments and heads of state made it clear in March this year that they wanted to see progress on new European chemicals legislation speeded up following earlier delays. Yet industry’s lobbying of heads of state and MEPs (members of the European Parliament) appear to have won major concessions.
The EC could tomorrow approve the fundamental principles of the legislative proposals and agree to the establishment of a new European chemical agency but it could also only approve the consultation period. If that happens, it is likely to add to the delay, the NGOs claimed.
"This delay is clearly promoted by some parts of industry, who are doing as much as possible to slow down the reform, the environment NGOs claimed, adding that delays to date have led to a watering down of the reform’s ambitions.
The main thrust of Europe’s new chemicals policy are not open for debate during the period of internet consultation but the structure and nature of the main plank of the proposed legislation – the chemicals testing and registration regime, known as Reach – is.
The environmental groups have broadly welcomed Reach, the ‘no data, no market’ philosophy behind it and the expectation that it will identify chemicals of ‘very high concern’. They believe, however, that industry will be able to continue to use many chemicals even when safer alternatives are available.
They are also concerned that the proposals as they stand will let industry keep secret large amounts of information and that untested chemicals will be allowed in imported consumer products.
The environment NGOs also called into question the most heavily publicised industry report: that produced by the German employer’s federation, the BDI.
Prepared by consultants AD Little, it suggested that Reach could cost up to 900 000 German jobs, cut gross added value in German industry by 2.4% and lead to a cut in industrial production of 7.7%. Against the background of Germany’s faltering economy and high rate of unemployment, for industry it continues to be a politically important tool.
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