While Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee is the lead committee for REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals), nine other committees are also involved. The Industry and Internal Market committees have the closest involvement, but the Employment, Economic and Monetary Affairs, International Trade, Budgets, Legal Affairs, Women’s Rights and Petitions committees are also involved to a lesser degree, demonstrating just how much REACH has an impact on the Union and how it touches Europeans’ lives. Over the last few months nearly 5000 amendments have been discussed by these 10 committees. In the end, around 500 remain to be submitted to a final vote in the plenary session to be held in the next few days – a reasonable figure considering that the regulations and their annexes run to more than a thousand pages...
Reaching a consensus
No-one disputes the need for REACH, whose primary concern is to protect the health of Europeans and the environment in which they live. Today, there are more than 100,000 chemical products on the European market, a large majority of which have never been specifically evaluated with regard to their long-term effects. More and more scientific studies show that illnesses like asthma, genital malformations, certain types of cancer and work-related illnesses are often the result of the level of harmful chemical products in our daily environment.
For this reason, REACH is aiming (in just over a decade) to compile a comprehensive register of these products and their properties and to encourage, wherever possible, the use of less harmful substitutes. It is therefore a question of keeping a close watch on things. Every producer or importer will not only be required to assess and register the products that they sell and market but they will also have to warn all end-users of the potential risks. The future rules also include the exchange of information between businesses in order to cut down on the number of studies required as well as the number of animal tests.
A controversial approach
While there is unanimous approval for REACH’s aims, there is far less agreement over the means of achieving them, especially with regard to the obligations it imposes on a key industrial sector, accounting for 5 million jobs (directly and indirectly) within the Union. The divisions between the industry and those defending the environment and public health are equally present among MEPs. In particular, between the Environment committee on the one side and the Internal Market and Industry committees on the other (over how restrictive the measures should be for business). For some key elements of the regulations the measures proposed by the sides go in opposite directions. Equally, opinions differ over the best way of maintaining competitiveness and encouraging innovation. With a few days left before the plenary session, compromises are in sight to bring positions closer together so that matters can be taken forward.
The plenary session’s vote will mark the end of the process known within the European Parliament as the “first reading”. It will then be for member states, meeting within the Council, to come to a decision. Like Parliament, the Council, which is the second legislative branch of the Union, has been discussing REACH for nearly two years. The UK, which currently holds the Council Presidency, hopes to obtain a political agreement during the meeting of the Competitiveness Council on November 28. That should be practically the end of the first reading within the co-decision process. In order for the legislative process to be completed, it will be necessary for the common position adopted by the Council to take on board all of Parliament’s amendments. Otherwise a second reading will take place, which could involve nearly a year’s additional work.
A gradual implementation
As soon as agreement is reached between Parliament and the Council, REACH will come into effect, with target dates being staged in accordance with the various implementation processes. It will be 2017 at the earliest before the whole register will be completed.
But the risks for public health and the environment will diminish much more quickly. The first stage of the process aims to complete (after three years) the register for substances which are produced in the largest quantities (more than a thousand tonnes) and those which are the most harmful (carcinogens, mutagens, toxins affecting reproduction which are persistent and bioaccumulable). Where possible, and where necessary, such substances are due to be replaced in manufacturing processes for items that are found around us. The Union will thus have taken a major, concrete step towards sustainable development.
Article about the passage of Reach through the Environment Committee
Reach in the Environment Committee