EU ministers hope to reach a political agreement on the proposed European chemicals policy, Reach, on 13 December.

EU ministers hope to reach a political agreement on the proposed European chemicals policy, Reach (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals), at their next meeting on 13 December. 

However, it’s still not clear whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel will go along with either the deal that was already emerging under her predecessor, Chancellor Schroeder, or the version preferred by the European parliament, as set out in the first reading vote by MEPs on 17 November.

UK secretary of state for trade and industry Alan Johnson, who chaired the competitiveness council meeting in late November at which ministers discussed Reach, told a press conference: ’There certainly wasn’t total opposition from Germany.’

Germany’s new environment minister Sigmar Gabriel would only say that ministerial agreement on 13 December is ’achievable’. 

European Commission sources indicated that one of the key outstanding issues concerns the extent to which the Reach regime should embrace the substitution principle - withdrawal of authorisation for sale/specific uses of a substance when a safer alternative is available. 

Diplomatic sources reported additional German misgivings about the parliament’s demands that authorisations should be subject to review at five-year intervals. 

They also said France is suggesting a compromise under which authorisations could be time-limited, but only on a case-by-case basis, not as a general rule as suggested by the parliament. 

However, the French compromise also favours waivers for dangerous substances when industry can show that they will be used with ’adequate control’, an idea contested by MEPs.

If ministers reach a political agreement on 13 December, the deal will then be voted on by the parliament at second reading expected in mid-2006.

Arthur Rogers