30 June 2006 15:22 [Source: ICIS news]
By Nigel Davis
LONDON (ICIS news)--Rubber stamping this week of the political agreement on Reach by the European Union member states generated a flurry of excitement and further calls from environmental groups for tougher chemicals control.
Increasingly, however, it looks as though chemical makers and users will achieve a more workable framework for Reach when the regulation finally comes into force.
This does not mean that representatives of the sector can be in any way complacent. Reach is not yet ‘done’ and by no means are everyone in businesses happy with the EU member states’ approach.
The so-called ‘common position’ published on Tuesday makes important distinctions on product authorisations and on product substitution but in other areas, for some, it does not go far enough.
Environmental groups have warned that MEPs will challenge some of the EU Council of Ministers’ recommendations. The areas of contention are on product substitution, mandatory or otherwise, the suggested periods of authorisation and the registration of chemicals produced in relatively low tonnages.
A measure of the progress that continues to be made on Reach is the way in which networks of expertise are being identified EU-wide drawing the sort resources together that that will be required to make Reach work. The European Commission (EC), agencies within the member states, and the chemicals industry, all have a part to play in this process.
It is encouraging to hear also that the powers of the European Chemicals Agency are to be strengthened.
The EU environment ministers who adopted the common position on Reach at their latest Council meeting agreed that the agency should have a more central role in the evaluation phase of Reach, when registration dossiers will be examined and substances of potential concern identified for further examination.
The aim, they said, is to ensure that evaluation is carried out efficiently and consistently across the EU. Core scientific work on evaluations will need to be carried out in the member states which have requisite expertise, they suggested.
They want to see responsibility for dossier evaluation transferred to the agency, while substance evaluation is carried out by member states, based on a single EU-wide rolling plan prepared by the agency.
Adoption of the common position, largely agreed in December last year, is not a major event in itself but highlights the fact that Reach milestones are being passed.
The European Parliament will debate the chemicals rules for the last time in the autumn before the EU’s co-decision process on the regulation draws to its close.
Many MEPs will want to see the rules revert to those proposed by parliament in 2005, including the adoption of an across-the-board five year authorisation period for all substances controlled under Reach.
The disputes with the member states’ governments which have been more widely influenced by workability and industrial competitiveness concerns will continue.
Anticipating the criticism from non-governmental organisations, EU ministers noted that the common position “aims to achieve a balance between the need to provide strong incentives or even requirements to substitute dangerous substances and the impact on industry if excessive requirements for authorisation were to be adopted”.
Indeed, the great Reach debate now is all about compromise and steering the regulation through the legislative process.
John Baker contributed to this article
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