Chemical safety talks collapse

Hopes that those on either side of the great REACH debate to reach an accord before the European Parliament's second vote on the chemical safety regulations have been dashed, making it more likely that the legislation will have to go through the conciliation process - the results of which are hard to predict.

The Byzantine process of getting what has been billed as the most complicated piece of legislation ever to come out of Brussels is drawing to a close, but expectations that its current incarnation would be passed by politicians almost unmolested appear to have been overly optimistic.

The legislation seeks to tidy up existing regulations which aim to protect the environment and public health from the risks posed by the manufacture and use of chemicals, whilst at the same time providing a more reliable safety net.

The Registration, Evaluation and Assessment of Chemicals (REACH) agreement will require safety tests for around 30,000 of the 100,000 chemicals currently in use in Europe and early indications suggested all parties were now close to coming to a settlement in the debate.

But negotiations between the European Parliament, Commissioners and the Council of Ministers failed to reach an agreement last week, with rapporteur Guido Sacconi refusing to accept concessions to industry proposed by the Finnish Presidency.

The implementation of the regulations has been plagued by the conflicting interests of environmentalists and industry representatives, epitomised by continuing disagreements between Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas and Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Gunter Verheugen.

Failure to come to a compromise before the parliamentary vote in December could plunge the proposed legislation into the conciliation process, a political lucky dip which could result in a set of regulations that fails to adequately address the concerns of either side of the debate.

Sam Bond

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