Chemicals strategy sidelined after Commission reprioritizes actions amid inflation and energy crises
Earlier this month, the European Commission unveiled its annual work program outlining the most significant actions scheduled for the coming year. Among them are important elements of the Commission’s plans to reform the E.U. chemicals framework. Here, AgencyIQ highlights the major legislative initiatives that have been delayed due to Europe’s ongoing inflation and energy tribulations, as well as the proposals that the Commission appears to still be able to deliver on, albeit not quite according to the original plan.
Key legislative ambitions under the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability
- The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) was launched in October 2020 and seeks to realize seven overarching actions, with the ultimate goals of better protecting EU citizens and the environment from harmful substances and enhancing innovation to make chemicals safer and more sustainable by design.
- Two of the CSS’s main legislative ambitions intended to implement some of these actions are the revisions of the Classification, Labeling and Packaging and the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals regulations (CLP – 1272/20008/EC and REACH – 1907/2006/EC). The delivery of the proposals for the CLP and REACH revamps were originally slated for the middle and the end of 2022, respectively.
What’s the status of the CLP revision?
- The Commission, with support from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), appears to be close to completing work on the draft version of the CLP revision. The Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) on October 27, 2022 circulated the draft agenda of the 17-18 November 2022 CARACAL expert group meeting which contains agenda items on the timing of the revision’s “delegated act and the legislative proposal.”
- These references are presumably to the Commission’s proposal published in September introducing new hazard classes (see AgencyIQ’s analysis of the draft legislation here) and to the yet-to-be-released draft of the main regulation expected to introduce a host of new provisions. These include new labeling obligations, digital documentation, specific rules for online sales, clarifications on mixture and substance classification, new poison center information reporting requirements, and a new mandate for the Commission to request ECHA to develop new harmonized classification and labeling (CLH) dossiers.
- At the same time, it is still not clear when the Commission is expected to release its impact assessment providing an analysis of potential costs and benefits of the CLP revision. Originally scheduled to be completed in Spring 2022, the assessment has not yet been made available to the public.
- Given the circumstances, it is uncertain whether the proposal for the regulation will be finished by the end of the year. Based on experience following CARACAL’s activities, the timing discussion on its November meeting agenda could indicate either that the proposal will be released shortly or that another delay will push its conclusion into 2023. In the best case, delivery of the Commission’s plans for the CLP revision will likely be half a year behind schedule.
What’s the status of the REACH revision?
- The Commission has postponed until 2023 its proposal for overhauling REACH, the E.U.’s cornerstone chemicals management legislation, as the 27-member bloc struggles to contain the crises of runaway inflation and sky-high energy prices unleashed by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
- The E.U. executive laid out its priorities for the next year in the 2023 Work Program, making the case for focusing its resources on bolstering the bloc’s energy markets, controlling the costs of living and providing support for the influx of Ukrainian refugees forced to flee their homeland in the face of Russian aggression. Indeed, the subtitle of the program, “A Union standing firm and united” suggests the direction of the Commission’s commitments and that the E.U.’s Green Deal ambitions, which the REACH revision is one of, have not been flagged as high priority next year.
- The impact assessment and proposal for the REACH revision were initially slated for completion by the middle and end of 2022, respectively. The date for the proposal was then moved back to the first quarter of the coming year. Now, with the release of the 2023 Work Program, the Commission has set the deadline for the final quarter of 2023 for both the assessment and the proposal, sacrificing its plans for reforming REACH in favor of addressing the crises, which are clearly perceived as more urgent.
Other chemicals initiatives foreseen in 2023
- The work program also foresees delivering legislative changes in the fourth quarter of 2023 intended to streamline and make more accessible chemicals data used in hazard and risk assessments. Part of the so-called “one substance – one assessment” (1S1A) approach under the CSS, as AgencyIQ reported last July, the Commission had originally planned to adopt this proposal in the first quarter of 2023.
- Several other chemicals-related initiatives that the Commission introduced earlier have also been flagged for completion during 2023. Priority pending proposals include those on the sustainable use of plant protection products, on substances that deplete the ozone layer, and on fluorinated greenhouse gases, among others (see pp. 8-12 of the work program annexes).
Reactions to the postponement of the REACH revision
- Eight environment ministers from E.U. and European Economic Area (EEA) member states (i.e., Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, and Sweden) expressed concern about the Commission’s commitment to the E.U. chemical reforms in an open letter published June 18, 2022. Among other points, they underscored the significance of completing the CSS and its constituent initiatives to secure a “green” future for the 27-member bloc.
- European center-right politicians and representatives of certain industries regarded the delay as an essential measure given the perceived necessity of securing sufficient energy and getting costs under control for consumers and industry alike.
- NGOs and left-leaning political groups in the European Parliament called on the Commission to stay the course and complete the REACH revision on time. Organizations like the International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec) urged the Commission “to [move] forward with the promises made in the Chemicals Strategy, specifically the revision of the REACH regulation, as soon as possible.” Representatives of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Greens had also pressed the Commission to remain committed to the original timetable to introduce these changes.
- Once it became clear that the initiative would be postponed to the end of 2023, these organizations heaped criticism on the Commission. The European Environment Bureau’s (EEB) October 17 article is emblematic. The EEB wrote that the Commission was “set to capitulate bold plans against hazardous chemicals and betray its own commitment to protecting health and environment.” It accused the E.U. executive of “effectively killing the reform in response to German chemical industry pressure.”
- One of the main concerns expressed by critics is that postponing the REACH revision until the final quarter of 2023 could effectively kill off the initiative altogether. This is because the year-long delay will make it likely that this key chemicals initiative will not be completed before the end of 2024 when the mandate for the E.U. Parliament and the Commission ends. If that happens, the strategy and the European Green Deal’s fate will be left to the outcome of the next round of MEP elections.
Key Documents and Dates
- 2023 Commission work programme (October 18, 2022)