Thursday

23rd May 2019

EU's REACH chemicals law begins life in Helsinki

About 40 EU officials will on Friday (1 June) start work at the new European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki, as the EU's REACH chemicals bill officially enters into force. But consumers will wait years before they see any changes in household goods like detergents, perfumes or toys.

Based in an old red brick insurance company building in the heart of the Finnish capital, the agency will open its doors with a morning press conference to be attended by Finnish prime minister Matti Vanhanen and industry commissioner Gunther Verheugen.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The 40 staff - seconded from Brussels - will begin by opening phone lines for companies unsure how to handle the new law. They will also set up computer systems to hold the massive amounts of data that will be generated by REACH and train another 60 staff to start work in December.

REACH - which stands for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals - is designed to cut health risks associated with everyday chemicals by forcing companies to register safety information with the Helsinki body and - in extreme cases - to substitute dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives.

Seven years in the making and 1,000 pages long, the bill is the most complex in EU history. Companies will be obliged to give new data on 30,000 chemicals. In 1,500 cases of risky substances, they will have to prove "adequate control." A small handful of highly toxic chemicals will be scrapped.

But despite entering into force on Friday, the first deadline for registering new information with Helsinki is June 2008. Other deadlines for registering chemicals produced or imported in small amounts will be phased in up to June 2018. And the full legal package will not be in place until 2022.

"It is a rough guess and it could happen sooner on a voluntary basis, but the earliest that a chemical could be forced off the market if it is unsafe is about three or four years from now," a Finnish official working on setting-up the agency told EUobserver.

"No consumer is going to wake up tomorrow and see some kind of visible change," a European Parliament official who worked on REACH said. "The first months, the pre-registration phase, are just designed for companies to get to grips with the new rules and information requirements."

Coping with REACH

The chemicals lobby hated early drafts of the REACH bill, which foresaw mandatory substitution of a much wider range of chemicals before it was watered down in the final negotiations last December. But in the past six months since EU states agreed the law, industry has found new ways to profit from the changes.

Brussels-based chemicals lobby CEFIC has launched a new fee-based service called ReachCentrum to teach companies about legal burdens and ways to pool data on safety tests. German firm BASF has opened a new consultancy wing called "Success" which will measure client's compliance with the new law.

REACH is also proving useful in branding terms. French cosmetics firm L'Oreal is promoting the fact it will exploit new technology that uses human skin cells and tissue from animals slaughtered for food, instead of live animal testing, in order to obtain new information required by the EU law.

"The really interesting thing to watch in the months and years to come, will be if industry actually faces the kinds of difficulties or costs it predicted," the European Parliament official said. "Everybody cried doom and gloom, but now they are just getting on with the job."

Was REACH fiddled?

Meanwhile, green NGOs are still fighting to prove that the final form of the REACH bill was unfairly influenced by industry lobbyists. Greenpeace says REACH, despite its new safeguards, will leave firms free to use cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals even though safer alternatives exist.

On 29 May, the NGO wrote to the EU Ombudsman to reinforce claims that four European Commission officials who worked on REACH also had very close ties with the chemicals industry. The commission denies that the staff "worked" on REACH strictly speaking, in the maze of departments handling the law.

"Greenpeace continues to denounce the lack of transparency surrounding the practice of revolving doors, a practice which, at the very least, appears to give private interests privileged access to public decision-making," the Greenpeace letter says.

The Ombudsman is expected to rule in the next few weeks if the alleged case of REACH "revolving doors" - a practice where EU officials work for big companies shortly before or after coming to Brussels - constitutes maladministration.

Analysis

Avoiding a Brexit chemical reaction

The UK's €56 billion chemicals industry was at first hoping Brexit would lead to less regulations - now it is hoping it can still access the single market.

EU top court backs Canada trade deal in ruling

The European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that the EU-Canada free trade agreement, and its controversial dispute settlement mechanism, is in line with the bloc's rules.

EU and Japan in delicate trade talks

The Japanese PM comes to Brussels to discuss the first results of the new EU-Japan free trade deal, plus WTO reform - a sensitive topic before he moves onto Washington to face Donald Trump.

News in Brief

  1. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  2. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  3. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job
  4. May struggling to get Brexit deal passed at fourth vote
  5. German MPs show interest in 'Magnitsky' sanctions
  6. CoE: Rights violations in Hungary 'must be addressed'
  7. EU affairs ministers rubber-stamp new ban on plastics
  8. Private companies campaign to boost turnout in EU poll

Feature

Romania enlists priests to promote euro switchover plan

Romania is due to join the single currency in 2024 - despite currently only meeting one of the four criteria. Now the government in Bucharest is enlisting an unlikely ally to promote the euro to the public: the clergy.

Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all

The visit of Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz to the White House on Wednesday showed that the current rift in transatlantic relations is deepening by the day.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us