Germany maintains push for EU chemicals review

EU presidency calls for new legislative framework, less burden on member states

Germany is to push its EU partners to make a united call for a fundamental review of European chemicals policy before its presidency term ends in the summer. Germany has drafted a statement - which it wants EU environment ministers to sign up to in June - asking the European Commission to come up with "an overall concept" for EU legislation to ensure more efficient assessment of the potential environmental and health risks from chemicals.

The text will be discussed by ministerial working groups in Brussels this week and will form the basis of an official statement to be made after ministers meet in June. Although it does not call for a chemicals framework directive as such, it advocates a more "efficient, integrated and coherent" approach to EU chemicals legislation, and a harmonisation of the various legal instruments currently in force (ENDS Daily 19 November 1998).

The document states that current EU procedures for examining chemical safety are proving too big a burden on member states and that the current approach to existing substances is "unlikely" to ever prove sufficient protect to health and the environment. It welcomes the initiative by the International Council of Chemicals Associations to provide basic data on 1,000 high-production-volume substances over the next five years, but adds that industry, rather than member states, should produce draft risk assessment reports for existing substances.

In addition to proposing improvements to the existing regulations, Germany believes that the Commission should propose an EU chemicals data base. This would be publicly accessible and provide details on the state of play in the risk assessment of all high-production-volume substances.

By putting chemicals risk management on the agenda, Germany is continuing the momentum to reform EU chemicals policy kick-started by ministers one year ago (ENDS Daily 27 April 1998). The eventual Council conclusions will give a political steer to the Commission on how to continue with its review of chemicals policy, following a stakeholder "brainstorming" session earlier this year (ENDS Daily 26 February).

Germany will have no problem finding a consensus that EU chemicals law needs an overhaul, but some of the details of its draft are likely to prove more controversial. For example, the text says the "precautionary principle" should be used in risk assessment of hazardous substances entering the marine environment and for persistent and bio-accumulating substances. Given the many different interpretations of the precautionary principle, this point might prove complicated. It also calls specifically for measures to identify and evaluate endocrine-disrupting chemicals - an area which has sharply divided European industry and policy makers in recent months.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: + 32 2 285 6111.

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