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16th May 2022

Pro-green MEPs win toxic chemicals vote in EU's REACH law

MEPs in the environment committee have backed a tough line on getting rid of toxic substances under the EU's upcoming REACH chemicals law, but pro-industry deputies will fight a rearguard action as negotiations head for climax in November.

The committee passed the pro-substitution amendments by 42 votes against 12 with six abstentions on Tuesday (10 October) and with 11 of the 12 no-votes coming from the largely pro-business conservative group in the European Parliament.

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  • Pesticides could be one area to fall under the new REACH law (Photo: Wikipedia)

The historic, 1,000 page long REACH bill - seven years in the making - aims to impose from April next year fresh public health and environmental safeguards on some 30,000 chemicals used in household products in Europe.

Tuesday's vote means the European Parliament is set to push European firms to ditch more chemicals such as phthalates in favour of safer alternatives and to face stricter tests to see if they have "adequate control" and exercise "duty of care" over other risky substances.

"The substitution principle is the cornerstone of the whole legislation," Italian socialist Guido Sacconi, who masterminded the pro-substitution amendments to REACH, stated. "We all remember the asbestos drama and we do not want it again. "

A coalition of major pro-green NGOs including Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth also welcomed the Tuesday result, saying "this legal obligation is essential to drive innovation of safer chemicals."

Rearguard action

The environment committee's pro-substitution line can still be challenged by pro-industry MEPs in plenary in November and must win the approval of anti-substitution states Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Ireland before it becomes law, however.

If the committee vote is extrapolated to the plenary chamber of 732 MEPs, 486 would back Mr Sacconi's line, with half of the conservative group voting either pro-substitution or abstaining from the count.

But Dutch conservative Ria Oomen-Ruijten, leading the parliamentary backlash, believes the committee structure does not reflect wider feeling. "This is a Pyrrhic victory - it will be defeated in plenary," she stated. "I still have the support of the majority of my group."

The fiery campaigner says she has all but 30 of the 264 conservative MEPs on her side, several German and Hungarian socialist deputies, some Dutch, French, German and Italian liberal group MEPs as well as a handful of eurosceptic and independent members.

Will Germany budge?

Meanwhile, the Sacconi camp will now begin a round of informal talks with the Finnish EU presidency and the 25 EU member states to see if a deal can be done that avoids the EU's so-called "conciliation procedure" of formal negotiations that could drag on for months.

"The message we are sending out [with the Tuesday vote] is, we have a strong negotiating position, we are a full co-legislator," pro-substitution British liberal Chris Davies told EUobserver.

"The message we are getting is that nobody wants to take this into conciliation. Parliament usually comes off better in conciliation in any case, because we go in united against divided member states," he added.

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