01 November 2004 16:51 [Source: ICIS news]
European government officials may think the costs of Reach, the European Union’s (EU’s) proposed new chemicals safety policy, are too high but they still believe the benefits outweigh the burden likely to be placed on industry.
“Limit costs for business but maintain benefits for health and (the) environment” was the message posted following the three-day meeting last week on the Dutch coast where officials from the EU’s 25 member states reviewed as many as 36 different Reach impact studies. The assessments from a variety of sources were sponsored by governments, industry and environmentalists. The officials, apparently, whether they belonged to environment, health or economic affairs ministries, agreed with the Reach objectives but judged the costs to business to be too high.?xml:namespace>
Possible Reach costs are still being bandied about but it looks as though the recommendation going through the Dutch EU presidency and on to the Competitiveness Council and the Environment Council via ad hoc working groups in November and December this year will be that ways must be found to reduce Reach bureaucracies.
The acceptance of the 'one substance, one registration' principle as proposed by the British and the Hungarians looks as though it is gaining ground. Other practical recommendations include the introduction of a pre-registration phase and further stimulation of the development of computer modelling to assess groups of compounds more effectively. EU politicians are acutely aware of pressures to introduce new technology and techniques into what will be the mammoth task of testing chemicals quickly.
While it holds the presidency, the Netherlands wants to fast track Reach through the EU’s co-decision process before it hands over to Luxembourg next year. There is pressure to bring Reach into law during the British presidency later in 2005.
The meeting last week, at Scheveningen in the Netherlands, was restricted to government officials although representatives from the European chemical industry council, Cefic, and the European Environment Bureau (EEB) had an hour to present their views. The industry has been relatively quiet on the meeting but feels that it got its arguments across, particularly on the impact of excessive, overburdening regulation on Europe’s small to medium sized (enterprises (SMEs).
Politicians are influenced by top-line figures and there will continue to be arguments about the true implementation costs of Reach as well as about the much more contentious area of knock-on costs to the European economy.
“We support the idea of cutting costs by promoting data sharing and guidance,” the EEB’s Stefan Scheuer said after the event. “But we are surprised about the lack of ideas to improve Reach benefits. This is an industry-biased view,” he added. The costs of Reach are minuscule, he contended “compared to (the) expected costs of uncontrolled chemical pollution. Reach is giving industry 11 years to close the safety gap.”
Environmental groups like the EEB and the WWF are quick to pour scorn on industry-sponsored studies that indicate possible excessive reach costs. “It was embarrassing to see that industry continues to use the flawed and heavily criticised ADL and Mercer studies,” WWF’s Michael Warhurst said.
Moreover, green groups are already trying to belittle planned industry studies, due for publication early next year, looking into the automobile, high tech electronics, packaging and inorganics sector. Based on interviews, and without, they say, “adequate verification” they will focus solely on the ‘losers’ and fail to address positive business impacts. The groups reserve their judgement on a parallel European Commission (EC) sponsored study looking in to possible Reach impacts on the textile industry.
These arguments, however, are largely becoming a sideshow to the main event that really begins to gather momentum this month and next.
As Reach moves through the committee stages in the co-decision process, politicians will be seeking ways to make Reach work better and more efficiently. There are numerous options but this is a big piece of difficult legislation that Europe wants to get right. Industries ultimately will be expected to adapt to – and survive – the Reach process.
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