The EU competitiveness council today clinched a political agreement on Reach, on the basis of a qualified majority vote.

The EU Competitiveness Council today clinched a political agreement on Reach, on the basis of a qualified majority vote. 

That political agreement must now be turned into a formal ’common position’ running to more than 1000 pages of legislative text, translated into all 20 EU official languages.

Given that this recasting exercise is expected to take until the late spring of 2006 to complete, a second reading by the European Parliament is unlikely before summer/early autumn next year.

At worst, there would be no final agreement on the new regime until early 2007, once the Parliament and EU ministers have settled outstanding differences through formal ’conciliation’ negotiations.

However, many of the amendments demanded by MEPs at its first reading on November 17 were adopted by razor-thin majorities. Where Strasbourgamendments are being resisted by ministers, MEPs will find it hard to muster the ’super majority’ required under EU rules for amendments to be revived at second reading. In which case, Reach would be adopted in late 2006.

For the moment, the big complaint from environmental NGOs is that ministers have watered down Strasbourgdemands for mandatory substitution of substances when safer alternatives are available. Instead, producers can obtain authorisations if substances are used under ’adequate control’. 

This ’loophole’ represents ’little change from the current, flawed system, which has failed to control the most dangerous chemicals and hinders safe, innovative products from entering the market,’ according to the NGOs.

UK Science minister Lord Sainsbury, who chaired today’s meeting in Brussels termed the agreement ’a job well done,’ while Industry Commissioner G?nther Verheugen declared himself satisfied that ministers had struck a reasonable balance on protecting health and the environment without imposing an excessive burden on industry. Arthur Rogers