November 11, 2005

Germany secures delay in EU chemical reform deal

By Jeff Mason

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany succeeded on Friday in
delaying a decision by European Union states on a landmark bill
to test and register thousands of chemicals produced in and
imported into the EU that could cost industry billions of

Britain, currently president of the 25-nation bloc,
accepted Germany's request to delay a deal on the Registration,
Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) originally
scheduled for a meeting of competitiveness ministers on
November 28-29.

"Germany asked for a postponement, and we have accepted
their request," a British spokeswoman told Reuters, adding
Britain still hoped to reach a deal before its presidency runs
out at the end of this year.

The incoming government of Germany, which has Europe's
biggest chemicals industry, with companies like BASF, told its
EU partners it would not have enough time to decide on the bill
under the original timetable.

REACH, which the European Commission estimates will cost
the chemical industry 2.3 billion euros over 11 years, was
designed to protect people from the adverse effects of
chemicals found in a wide range of products from paint to

Chemical makers would have to register the properties of
substances with a central EU database. Those of highest
concern, such as carcinogens, would require authorization to be

Environmentalists fear that a delay could lead to a further
watering down of the text to meet industry demands.

The spokeswoman said Britain could call another meeting of
the council of competitiveness ministers to agree a deal before
the end of December, but no decision on a date had been made.

"We have today informed (EU ambassadors) that we propose a
substantial policy debate on REACH at the November
competitiveness council, with a view to reaching an agreement
on this dossier as soon as possible thereafter," she said.


A draft version of REACH is scheduled to be debated and
voted on next week in the European Parliament.

Both lawmakers and member states will have to agree on a
common position on the bill before it can become law.

The debate comes as Europe tries to boost its sluggish
economies without jeopardizing social and environmental

"We think it's an unnecessary delay, and we don't think the
UK presidency should have caved in to the German demands," said
Justin Wilkes, program officer at environmental group WWF.

The spokeswoman stressed there was momentum to get a deal
soon on REACH, which has been in the works for years.

Green lawmakers want a deal under the British EU presidency
to avoid the file being handed to Austria, which takes over in
January, and which they consider as less environmentally

The plan for a vote in Parliament has so far not been
derailed, but it is likely to be complicated.

Hundreds of amendments are up for a vote, though the major
political groups have agreed to a compromise on reducing the
number of substances in a low-tonnage category of chemicals
that would require tests for registration.

That category applies to chemicals that are produced or
imported into the EU in amounts of between one and 10 tonnes a
year, estimated to be between 17,500 and 20,000 substances.

The Green party has produced an alternative to the
compromise agreed by conservatives, socialists and liberals.