Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report


16. In June 2003, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) published its report, Chemicals in Products: Safeguarding the Environment and Human Health. As well as an assessment of REACH, it outlined its own model for regulation. It has four steps:

    a)  Listing - compilation of a list of all chemicals;

    b)  Sorting - using modern techniques to determine key properties of the listed chemicals, for comparison with publicly accepted criteria;

    c)  Evaluation - further investigation of chemicals selected by the sorting process; and

    d)  Action - risk management based on use, including regulatory measures to restrict use and non-regulatory drivers of substitution.

Despite its criticisms of REACH (based on the White Paper), the RCEP's system has much in common with the Commission's Proposals. The RCEP claim that there would be no need for tiering based on tonnage in its model since a rapid sorting process would select the chemicals of concern for further evaluation.

History and process

17. The REACH Proposals can be traced back to an informal Environment Council of Ministers meeting held at Chester under the UK Presidency of the EU in April 1998. The meeting led to a review by the European Commission of the EU legislative framework for the management of chemicals. The Commission's report to EU Environment Ministers at the end of 1998 identified as the main issue the backlog of existing substances for which information about their potential to cause harm to the environment and human health was not available. The Commission held a "brainstorming" meeting with stakeholders: regulators, scientists, industry, environmental and consumer NGOs, and representatives from applicant countries - in February 1999.[12] In June 1999 Environment Ministers called on the Commission to consider measures that provide an efficient and integrated design of the various legal instruments for chemicals; place the main responsibility on industry for generating and assessing data; provide a more flexible approach to risk assessment with the aim of targeting assessments; and establish effective risk management strategies for certain chemicals that may cause threats of serious or irreversible damage to human health or the environment as a result of their inherent properties by giving appropriate weight to their use pattern and the possibility of exposure. The resultant work was conducted jointly by the Environment and Enterprise Directorates-General.

18. The result was a proposed chemicals policy detailed in a White Paper discussion document, entitled Strategy for a future Chemicals Policy, published in February 2001.[13] A White Paper is traditionally used by the European Commission to launch new policy initiatives. It may suggest changes to existing legislation or the introduction of new legislation, but it creates no legal obligations. The White Paper was considered by the House of Lords European Union Sub Committee D. Its report, published in February 2002, concluded that it was "unrealistically overambitious" and that combining new and existing chemicals in a single regime was unnecessary and would be "extremely complicated and contentious".[14]

19. Following the White Paper, the Commission developed a draft text for new legislation, which was posted on the internet for an 8-week public consultation in May 2003. The Commission presented its final Proposals for a Regulation on REACH in October 2003 alongside an Extended Impact Assessment it had conducted.

20. It is intended that the REACH Proposals enter EU law as a Regulation rather than a Directive. This means that the legislation will be directly binding on Member States and the only national legislation required will be to amend or repeal incompatible domestic legislation. The use of this legal instrument has in general been seen as necessary in order to achieve uniform application, legal certainty and the smooth running of the internal market.[15]

21. The Proposals will now be passed over to the scrutiny of the European Parliament and the Council, following the co-decision procedure. The first reading in the European Parliament and the Council is likely to take place in autumn 2004. The co-decision procedure, by which legislation is adopted both by the Parliament and the Council, is now underway and a working group of officials from Member States has begun to consider the Regulation in detail. It is expected that the European Parliament will return to this after the June 2004 elections. It is possible that the Council may agree a common position during the UK Presidency in the second half of 2005, with the conciliation process with the European Parliament to follow. The European Council of Ministers has agreed that it will be led by the Competitiveness Council. In the European Parliament it has now been agreed that the process will be handled jointly by three Committees: Environment, Industry and Legal Affairs. The Government suggests that Registration will begin in 2008-9.[16]

Lobbying positions

22. Three principal lobbying groups on REACH can be identified as follows:

Other interested parties have been downstream businesses, retailers and the EU's trade partners. The scientific community has also expressed its views, notably the Royal Society of Chemistry.

European Commission, Strategy for a future Chemicals Policy, COM(2001) 88 final, February 2001, pp 2-3 Back

13   European Commission, Strategy for a future Chemicals Policy, COM(2001) 88 final, February 2001 Back

14   Thirteenth Report of the House of Lords European Committee, Session 2001-02, Reducing the Risk Regulating Industrial Chemicals, HL 81 Back

15   DEFRA, UK Consultation paper on the New EU Chemicals Strategy - REACH, March 2004, para 17 Back

16   DEFRA, UK Consultation paper on the New EU Chemicals Strategy - REACH, March 2004, para 44 Back

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