ECHA publishes 2023 work program


Feb. 01, 2023

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has issued its programming document for the 2023-2026 period, including a work program detailing the agency’s priority actions for the coming 24 months. While ECHA’s long-term objectives are essentially the same as last year’s, its near-term goals reveal an increased workload. For example, new regulatory tasks the agency will be preparing for stem from the imminent arrival of the Batteries Regulation, as well as the upcoming revisions of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), and the Groundwater, Surface Water and Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) Directives.

Background: documentation of ECHA’s short-, mid- and long-term plans

  • At the beginning of the year, ECHA publishes its Programming Document for the coming four years. It includes a multiannual work program, or strategic plan, outlining mid- and long-term objectives, as well as a more comprehensive description of tasks to be carried out during the immediate future. Essentially, this exercise provides “a structured overview” of the activities and goals, as well as budgeted inputs and related outputs in terms of resources, that the agency has planned.
  • The document lays out a detailed list of activity-based objectives that ECHA intends to realize over the next two years, along with performance indicators to measure them, estimated outputs (e.g., tasks completed, services rendered, reports produced), and the resources – in terms of head count (i.e., fulltime employees) and expenditures to be used to accomplish the associated objectives. It also includes a breakdown of revenues, based on associated tasks, as well as annual contributions (e.g., REACH balancing subsidy) to ECHA. In short, ECHA sees the programming document as a way to “[ensure] the effective and efficient implementation of the Agency’s core regulatory mandate and [support] the development and implementation of EU priorities related to the European Green Deal and its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability” (CSS).

ECHA publishes its Programming Document 2023-2026

  • On January 30, 2023, the ECHA Programming Document for 2023-2026 was posted to the agency’s website, providing a detailed overview of its plans for the next four years. The document is divided into three parts with supplemental annexes at the end: (I) an introduction providing the general context and overarching purpose of the document (pp. 10-12); (II) a section dedicated to the agency’s mid- and long-term objectives (i.e., strategic plan) as they relate to its main regulatory duties and the aspirations of the Green Deal and CSS (pp. 13-28); and (III) the final and longest section providing the list of activity-based objectives that make up the work program for 2023 and 2024 (pp. 29-75). The end of the document contains an extensive set of annexes detailing ECHA activities in charts and numbers, including a breakdown of financial resources (i.e., revenues and expenditures), an overview of agency regulatory tasks, and the allocation of resources per activity. (Note that while the document is dated December 15, 2022, its copyright is given as 2023).

ECHA remains on the path of priorities laid out in its Strategic Plan 2019-2023

  • In 2023, ECHA’s three strategic priorities remain “largely valid,” according to an ECHA Management Board report assessing the agency’s strategic direction. These mid- to long-term priorities are:
    • Identification and risk management of substances of concern: ECHA’s main driver to group together chemicals and single out substances of concern (e.g., carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins (CMRs)), determine which regulatory action is needed, and assist the Commission in taking that action under the relevant legislation (e.g., REACH, CLP, BPR, POPs). This priority is being carried out in large part through the agency’s Integrated Regulatory Strategy.
    • Safe and sustainable use of chemicals by industry: This objective focuses on enhancing communication among market operators up and down the supply chain by improving industry’s knowledge and capacities to better comply with chemicals legislation. Here, the agency is called on to provide enhancements to chemical safety assessment and supply-chain communication through the provision of improved (online) tools, templates, guidance, and methodologies.
    • Sustainable management of chemicals through the implementation of EU legislation: This priority foresees ECHA working collaboratively with competent authorities both in the EU and internationally toward the successful implementation of new and/or existing chemical management legislation under its purview.
  • In realizing these priorities by 2023, which represents the final year of the current Strategic Plan, ECHA aspires “to demonstrate that progress has been made towards the objectives of the legislation ECHA implements, the objectives of the overall EU regulatory system and the [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals.”

2023-2024 work program promises more tasks on ECHA’s plate

  • The work program highlights an increase in ECHA’s workload in the coming two years. It attributes this growth to the revision of the CLP and preparations for the upcoming REACH revision, additional responsibilities foreseen under the CSS, and the natural increase in volume of regulatory tasks that are already part of the agency’s core regulatory mandate.
  • The CLP revision and the changes envisioned under the revision of REACH entail new obligations that will lead to more work for ECHA. The addition of new hazard classes (e.g., endocrine disruptors; persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (PBTs)) and the expansion of the Commission’s authority to initiate harmonized classification and labeling (CLH) for substances under the CLP will result in higher volumes of CLH-related work, including the drafting of CLH proposals by ECHA and scientific opinions by the committees for risk assessment and for socio-economic analysis (i.e., RAC and SEAC). Likewise, the realization of certain elements of the REACH revision, like the registration of polymers, would also likely increase ECHA’s registration-related tasks.
  • The Commission is streamlining administrative processes under the CSS that would require the agency to take on additional tasks associated with improved chemical safety assessment across different legislations. Three legislative initiatives that the Commission has proposed for revision are the Batteries Regulation, the Industrial Emissions Directive, and the Groundwater, Surface Water and Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) Directives. The Batteries Regulation, for example, in its current version provisionally approved by the Council and the EU Parliament, includes provisions requiring ECHA to undertake restriction-related tasks (e.g., restriction proposals and RAC and SEAC opinions) identical to those it currently carries out in implementation of REACH. (For details on the Batteries Regulation, see AgencyIQ’s January 2023 analysis here.)
  • The programming document notes that until now the agency has been able to flexibly allocate and reallocate resources “to absorb workload peaks and ad hoc requests, such as providing support to the Commission’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS).” However, considering the higher volumes of work that are very likely to come, ECHA “has reached its limit in terms of large-scale efficiency gains and is no longer in a position to provide ‘more with less’ or, in terms of absorbing new tasks, without additional resources or redeploying resources from existing tasks to new ones, in line with priority-setting.”
  • To help ECHA meet this anticipated increase in its workload, the Commission is putting together a proposal for a standalone “basic regulation,” which is intended to improve the agency’s governance, including by creating stable revenues through combined fee income and EU contributions. (For background on this standalone regulation, see AgencyIQ’s September 2022 analysis here.)

To contact the author of this analysis, please email Scott Stephens.

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