On 8 June 2020, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) serving on the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) debated the upcoming EU Chemicals Strategy.
The author of the European Parliament's opinion on the strategy, Maria Spyraki MEP (EPP), started the discussion by giving an overview of what MEPs expect from the upcoming Chemical Strategy for Sustainability. First, she emphasized that the chemicals strategy should be coherent and complementary to other initiatives in the Green Deal. She continued by elaborating on key priorities: (1) upgrade the level of protection for consumers and the environment by focusing on substitution of hazardous substances and the grouping approach; (2) set worldwide standards and ensure a level playing field; (3) increase the level of REACH and CLP implementation to establish a competitive European market and regulatory stability to support innovation; (4) avoid animal testing; and (5) support ECHA by increasing their resources.
Throughout the discussion, most MEPs seemed to agree that the strategy should establish the ‘grouping of chemicals’ as the main assessment approach, establish a level playing field and a competitive European market, and reinforce ECHA and REACH regulation. MEPs recognized that there is a huge problem related to REACH implementation and massive incoherence between different EU chemicals legislations.
One point of discussion was the substitution of hazardous substances. Some MEPs believe that the strategy should prioritize substitution of hazardous substances. Others, however, were more critical about substitution and believe that this is not always the best option. The social and economic impact related to substitution of a substance should be considered and the Commission should take a flexible attitude.
The Director of the European Commission's DG Environment, Kęsţutis Sadauskas, joined the discussion and emphasized the following priorities: (1) strengthening legislation to ensure better protection; (2) boosting innovation and competitiveness; (3) rationalising and coherence of regulation; (4) strengthening the knowledge on chemicals; and (5) global action. He also addressed the role of chemicals in the Circular Economy and recognised that toxic chemicals make products functional and more durable, like batteries (example of cobalt), but said that ‘our goal should be to replace them by something less toxic and more sustainable.’
At the end of the discussion, the director of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), Bjorn Hansen, gave a short presentation on the role of ECHA. He said that ECHA needs accelerate its work related to data gathering and assessment. He also said that the challenges related to the current incoherent chemical’s legislations can be addressed by prioritising the ‘one substance, one assessment’ approach. The chemicals agency could also assist in defining what a ‘sustainable chemical’ is and support industry innovation to “invent” the molecules necessary to achieve the 2050 targets.
The Critical Raw Materials Alliance welcomes the efforts to address regulatory inconsistencies and to boost innovation. We support the aim of simplifying EU rules on chemicals by ensuring increased harmonisation of work between EU agencies and legislation. In particular the work done for the various assessments (hazard and risk assessments, RMOA’s, socio-economic impact assessments) should not be unnecessarily duplicated.
We were, however, concerned there was no mention of CRMs during the debate. The chemicals strategy should focus on the importance of developing a regulatory framework for CRMs and recognise the non-substitutable use of CRMs in critical applications. We have addressed these points in our response to the public consultation on the roadmap for the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and will continue our work related to the topic.