The European Parliament today gave the go-ahead to launch the EU regulatory regime for chemicals

Arthur Rogers/Strasbourg, France 

After last-gasp negotiations between ministers and legislators, the European Parliament today gave the go-ahead to the launch of Reach, the European Union regulatory regime for chemicals. 

Reach breaks new ground by reversing the burden of proof, by requiring industry to demonstrate that substances are acceptably safe, and by introducing systematic screening of thousands of chemicals in everyday use. 

Guido Sacconi, the Italian Socialist who steered the legislation through its parliamentary stages told Chemistry World: ’The Finnish presidency of the EU has promised that ministers will sign off the Reach regulation without further discussion when they meet on 18 December, and that enactment will take place before the end of the year.’ 

Ministers will also sign the separate directive that establishes the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the body tasked with operating the Reach system of registration, evaluation, and authorisation of chemicals. 

Sacconi said the regulation will enter into force on 1 June, 2007, and ECHA will be launched 12 months later. Then, in mid-2009, ECHA will present a first series of recommendations, likely to focus on carcinogens, mutagens, and substances toxic to reproduction (CMRs) produced or imported in volumes greater than 1000 tonnes. 

Adoption of Reach was assured when the three biggest political groups in the Parliament - the Christian Democrats, the Socialists and the Liberals - lined up in support of a compromise text that emerged from negotiations on 30 November with ministerial officials. Finland’s industry minister Mauri Pekkarinen confirmed in Strasbourg: ’The member states have lined up behind the compromise package’, he said, clearing the way for ’one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever placed before the EU’. 

In discarding a patchwork of legislation dating back 40 years, the EU would take ’a great leap forward’ by pioneering a new approach to developing safer chemicals, he said. Minority parliamentary groups including the Greens and Communists tried to block the compromise package by tabling a raft of amendments based on tougher demands registered by the Parliament at earlier stages. 

In the event, the compromise package attracted the ’super-majority’ required at second reading when amendments must be supported by a majority of the Parliament’s 732 serving members. The amendments were finally supported by 529 members to 98, with 24 abstentions.