EU Commission Pushes REACh Revision into 2023
27.10.2022 - In a move widely expected in some quarters but not communicated until the last minute, the European Commission has shelved plans to update the REACh chemicals legislation during 2022.
Even the first quarter of 2023, as last envisioned, seems to have been too soon for the EU governing body. Capping weeks of speculation, the publication of the Commission’s 2023 work schedule on Oct. 18 revealed that revision of REACh will not be tabled until late next year.
Proponents of speedier and ambitious action say they fear that, with more time, some of the planned improvements to REACh could be altered to accommodate the chemical industry’s wishes. The latest description of the EU plans accents more strongly than before securing European regulatory competitive advantages and streamlining and simplifying procedures.
The Commission’ work schedule is full—some think it may be too full. Complementing support for Ukraine and means for dealing with soaring energy prices, its “headline ambitions” in the sustainability category alone include delivering the Green Deal, working toward curbing pesticide use, achieving a circular economy and promoting genomic techniques, with REACh seeming to bring up the rear.
Proponents of speedy REACh revision speak out
Among the first to express concern about the perceived unclear priorities in recent weeks were EU member states. In an open letter to the Commission, the environment ministers of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and Luxembourg, as well as EEA member Norway, wrote that strengthening REACh is paramount for "greening" the EU’s chemicals legislation.
In the European Parliament (EP), which also has a voice in the matter, the Green and Socialist (S&D) factions have now turned up the heat, both groups accusing the EC of playing industry’s foot dragging game. “The EU’s chemical sustainability drive is a crucial part of the European Green Deal and important for achieving a zero pollution environment,” the socialists argue.
“Besides the obvious benefits to our own health and environment,” the MEPs stress that REACh is important to ensure a level playing field between EU-based and foreign manufacturers who sometimes seek to export harmful substances into the EU.
NGOs additionally worry that postponing the long-planed revision for another year would mean it is unlikely to take effect until 2028, and then with potentially different objectives.
Environmental advocacy group ClientEarth has criticized the repeated delays as “one of the biggest regulatory scandals at EU level in recent history.” Reneging on revising REACh is tantamount to reneging on promises made in the Green Deal, it asserts.
EPP speaks out for industry
On the other side of the debate, the European People’s Party (EPP) has positioned itself as a voice for industry.
While acknowledging that the REACh delay offers a degree of relief from the growing regulatory burden, the conservative-oriented MEPs say it is not enough, as the eventually required compliance would still usher in new costs, not only for the chemical industry but also companies that depend on it. “The effects will simply be devastating.”
The parliamentary faction that says it speaks for Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) has called for a moratorium on new antipollution laws, especially with an eye to the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which it says would carry fresh reporting obligations and require additional permits.
To take these higher hurdles, the EPP says European companies would have to spend even more to transition to more sustainable energy sources against the backdrop of “historically high” energy bills and increased raw materials prices.
“Regulatory and administrative burdens on enterprises and especially on small and medium-sized businesses should be reduced to the largest extent possible,” the party says.
For the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), the plethora of pending legislation “puts the EU’s chemical industry at a crucial crossroads,” and the Commission’s intended policy changes create “significant ripple effect across many value chains relying on chemicals.”
Like the EPP and industry at large, European chemical producers are more concerned about some of the EU’s legislative initiatives than others, especially the planned revision of the IED.
Although the directive proposes that permitting procedures “should be shortened, simplified and made more realistic,” CEFIC maintains that some of its provisions risk further slowing the permitting process. The association has compiled its own 10-point action plan for an effective revision” of the legislation.
Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist