Sweden calls for clearer EU chemicals strategy

Environment ministry calls for short and long-term goals as part of overall EU strategy

Sweden is pushing for fundamental changes to EU policies on chemical risks. At a conference in Brussels on Friday, the Swedish environment ministry called for EU chemicals policy to be based clearly on the principles of producer responsibility and full application of the precautionary principle as well as the existing risk assessment approach.

By organising the meeting, the ministry was signalling acceptance of advice it received earlier this year to adopt a more radical approach to chemicals control domestically and internationally (ENDS Daily 16 June). The ministry has presented the European Commission with a paper criticising current the EU for having "no elaborated overall policy for chemicals with short and long-term goals, nor any easily accessible overview of results achieved".

In particular, Sweden is unhappy with the priority given to by the EU to individual risk assessment of chemicals. The current EU risk assessment programme is "going very, very slowly," the head of the Swedish Chemicals Inspectorate, Gunnar Bengtsson, told ENDS Daily.

The policy paper recommends instead of this "time consuming approach" that the EU work out "a more general approach to risk management, including aspects such as the combined effects of chemicals and the effects the chemicals will have in the long term".

A coherent EU chemicals policy based on the these principles would enable "different actors to work towards the same goal without detailed legislation," Mr Bengtsson said.

Sweden is also keen for the EU to embrace its own principle of systematic substitution of harmful chemicals as safer ones reach the market. The Swedish government succeeded in securing the approval of other EU governments to introduce a watered-down version of such a system under the draft EU biocides directive (ENDS Daily 18 April).

At the meeting, Swedish chemical producers argued that the precautionary and substitution principles have their limits. Anita Ringström of the Swedish Chemical Industries Association said that the European chemical industry was already "affected by so many regulations and bureaucratic intervention" and needed deregulation rather than more regulation.

Swedish environment minister Anna Lindh used the meeting to make it clear that Sweden would resist revoking existing bans on certain chemicals in order to come in line with EU policy. When Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, Swedish bans on cadmium, arsenic and pentachlorophenol (PCP) were allowed to run until the end of 1988, pending a review of EU laws in this area.

Ms Lindh told the conference that "lowering standards because of accession to the EU is completely and compellingly unacceptable....I think there are good enough reasons for the EU to raise its standards to the levels of the new members," she added.

Follow Up:
Swedish Environment Ministry, tel: +46 8 405 1000; Association of Swedish Chemical Industries, tel: + 46 8 783 8000; National Chemicals Inspectorate, tel: + 46 8 730 5700.

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