Sunday

29th Mar 2020

How France escaped EU legal action over chemical ban

  • Plastic containers sold in France cannot be made with the bisphenol A chemical (Photo: Caroline Attwood)

The European Commission considered in 2015 taking legal action against France over the country's ban of a toxic chemical - but was unable to find agreement internally, an internal document released to EUobserver revealed.

The paper was made public after an access to documents request by this website, and concerns the French decision to ban the use of bisphenol A in food packaging, containers and utensils, as of 1 January 2015.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • A briefing paper for a member of EU commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska's cabinet was released after an access to documents request (Photo: Peter Teffer)

France did not want to risk the food of its citizens coming in contact with the chemical substance.

"France is the sole country not only in the EU, but in the world, having adopted such a measure," the document said.

The document is a briefing paper for Agnieszka Drzewoska, cabinet member of industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska, written to prepare her for a 17 April 2015 meeting with PlasticsEurope, a Brussels-based lobby group for the plastics industry which had complained about the new French law.

It highlights the difference of opinions that can exist within the European Commission – and the sometimes conflicting focus of its departments, called directorates-general.

"In the light of the current state of EU law, the French measure is fully disproportionate and creates considerable legal uncertainty, both within the internal market and as regards the EU commercial relations with third countries," the paper said.

"The [French] legislation at issue goes beyond what is necessary to attain the objective pursued," it went on, noting that the French law caused "a great degree of legal uncertainty".

The paper was written by the directorate-general in charge of the functioning of the internal market and industry.

It said that commission civil servants proposed opening a case against France through the so-called infringement procedure, which is a series of escalating letters and warnings that can end up in the Court of Justice of the EU.

While the legal services of the commission supported a draft 'letter of formal notice', to be sent to France, the commission's directorate-general in charge of public health provided a negative opinion, and the case was put on hold.

Bisphenol A is a substance used often by the plastics industry to make everyday products. Prolonged exposure however, can lead to severe health problems.

Last year, PlasticsEurope went to the Court of Justice to challenge a decision by the European Chemicals Agency to mark bisphenol A as a substance of very high concern.

When Bienkowska's cabinet member met with the plastics lobbyists in April 2015, a report by the European Food Safety Authority had just come out, saying that there was no consumer health risk from bisphenol A exposure.

However, the EU had already banned the use of bisphenol A in the production of baby bottles in 2011 as a precautionary measure.

A new ban on using it in thermal receipts – to protect cashiers – will come into force in 2020.

Meanwhile in France, the law was adjusted later in 2015, allowing French companies to produce food packaging, containers and utensils with bisphenol A if it is meant for export. Placing those products on the French market remained banned.

And last February, the commission decided – backed by EU member states – to tighten restrictions on the use of bisphenol A in "varnishes and coatings intended to come into contact with food".

Harmonisation

The United States' foreign agricultural service noted in a February report that bisphenol A restrictions varied across the EU.

"Differences between these national laws affect the proper functioning of the internal market for food contact materials and pose challenges to third-country exporters," it said.

However, it noted that even though the commission's February decision meant that the EU rules on using bisphenol A became stricter, it also meant an improvement of harmonisation.

The commission recently told MEPs that the European Food Safety Authority will begin a re-evaluation of the substance in spring 2018, a process expected to take two years.

Europe bans Bisphenol-A chemical in baby bottles

A European ban on baby bottles containing the chemical Bisphenol-A will be imposed next year over fears the substance could affect development and immune response in young children.

Exclusive

Belgium prepares probe into Politico tobacco sponsorship

Tobacco company British American Tobacco sponsored the popular Playbook newsletter this week - saying it is not against the law because the advertisements were not about specific products. Now the Belgian authorities are preparing to investigate.

Investigation

The most dangerous pesticide you've never heard of

Scientists say there is no acceptable dose to avoid brain damage. Its use is banned in several European countries. Yet its residues are found in fruit baskets, on dinner plates, and in human urine samples from all over Europe.

News in Brief

  1. UK health minister tests positive for coronavirus
  2. Orban: coronavirus exposes EU 'weaknesses'
  3. Court orders Netherlands to pay colonial victims
  4. Belgian cat 'infected by coronavirus'
  5. UK PM Johnson tests positive for coronavirus
  6. EU agrees Libya naval mission after Greek solution
  7. US to upgrade its nuclear bombs in Europe
  8. US surpasses China and Italy with 82,404 corona cases

Exclusive

Belgium prepares probe into Politico tobacco sponsorship

Tobacco company British American Tobacco sponsored the popular Playbook newsletter this week - saying it is not against the law because the advertisements were not about specific products. Now the Belgian authorities are preparing to investigate.

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU doctors: bring refugees on Greek islands to safety
  2. Russia's top coronavirus 'fake news' stories
  3. WHO warning on lockdown mental health
  4. Virus: Frontex tells officers to keep guarding Greek borders
  5. EU heads struggle to find joint virus response
  6. Poland's sham presidential election in a pandemic
  7. Von der Leyen warns 'end selfishness' in virus crisis
  8. Chinese ambassador to EU: put trust before politics

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us