18 November 2004 22:30 [Source: ICIS news]
LONDON (CNI)--Relations between the chemical industry, governments and the environmental lobby are acknowledged to have been seriously damaged by in-fighting over the European Commission's planned Reach (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) legislation, senior industry representatives heard on Thursday evening.
John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), told the annual Chemical Industries Association (CIA) dinner in London: "'Poisonous' is the word which one European Commission official uses to describe the atmosphere that has developed between governments, companies and greens over this plan."
Hopes that Reach proposals would usher in a new chapter of co-operation have so far been dashed, he said.
Monks, former general secretary of the UK's Trade Union Congress (TUC), has been appointed to a new high level group along with Jurgen Strube, formerly boss of BASF, which will meet to try to promote a wider measure of agreement.
"That is going to be hard," he stressed. "It has not been made easier by the fact that some industry representatives stand accused of opening the debate by grossly exaggerating the threat to profitability and jobs." But he exonerated the CIA from this charge.
He also charged the environmental lobby with "having unrealistic expectations that there can be a quick fix".
But he congratulated Europe on taking the initiative on safety. "This is an international problem clearly needing attention at the European and world levels. And because there is no effective system at the world level, then Europe was always going to take the lead. This US Government, with its careless views on Kyoto and its denial of the science on global warming, was certainly never going to do so."
He warned that there were "big divisions" in Europe’s unions over the plan. "Unions in the chemical sector are rightly worried about the impact on jobs of Reach, especially since the CIA’s counterpart in Germany, claimed more than two million jobs were at risk. But others, especially in engineering, are saying we want to know more about what [compounds] our members are working with."
He noted that the controversy still raged, even though intense lobbying pressure has watered down the original plan, reducing the estimated costs to industry from over Euro12bn ($15.5bn) over 11 years to just over Euro2bn.
"The number of calm voices is small," he said. He praised the CIA for being one of these voices, and for working with Greenpeace and others to develop common ground on the authorisation procedure. "They get a better hearing than the noisier, wilder lobbies which are around".
He also urged industry not to over-react to the new regulations. "It is important that this industry does not go into denial about the real problems that there are, that it does not throw its hands in the air, give up on Europe and say we will emigrate our new investments to the less regulated parts of the world where there is little or no concern for the environment."
Monks went on to compliment the CIA on its pragmatic approach to the EU at at time when Reach was passing through key legislative stages.
He also stressed the importance of EU membership to British industry and warned of the dangers if Britain became marginalised within the Community.
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