EU Commission to drop chemicals law reform as a gift to polluters

The European Commission is tomorrow set to capitulate bold plans against hazardous chemicals and betray its own commitment to protecting health and environment, a leak of the European Commission’s 2023 work programme shows.

The 2023 work programme, finalised in a meeting of heads of cabinets last Friday evening and set to be adopted in the College of Commissioners tomorrow, is set to delay by a year the start of REACH reforms from the last quarter of 2022 to the last quarter of 2023. But this delay is far more significant than ‘just one year’: with European Parliament elections set for May 2024, the delay is effectively “game over” for REACH reform in this legislature and under this Commission, said the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which has seen the leaked programme. No complex reform has ever been completed in such a short period of time. Therefore, Ursula von der Leyen Commission is effectively killing the reform in response to German chemical industry pressure, EEB said.

The Commission had announced it would strengthen and speed up what are painfully slow chemical controls, saying that its most important law, REACH, is “too slow to sufficiently protect consumers and professional users against risks from the most hazardous substances”. As the EEB has shown, it often takes EU and national officials over a decade to identify hazardous chemicals and then another decade to restrict their use. Chemical pollution is “a threat to human health” and “one of the key drivers putting the Earth at risk”, the Commission acknowledged. 

The cabinet heads also completely changed the purpose of the reform goals: strengthened health and environmental protections, faster decision-making and improved legal compliance and support for industry transition towards safer and sustainable chemicals. They deleted them and replaced them entirely with industry-friendly goals of “securing European competitive advantages” and “reducing burden,” the leaked document shows. The change would legally overturn their earlier announcement.

MEP Maria Arena, member of the European Parliament Intergroup on Cancer, said:

“The European Commission’s proposal to push back the much-needed REACH revision to the end of 2023 is unacceptable. The Commission is denying this European Parliament the possibility to have a balanced and democratic debate on this reform. In truth, the Commission is putting the final nail in the REACH reform’s coffin under their mandate. Even more worrisome is the deletion of the strengthening of the protection of health and the environment as the overarching goal of the reform only to be replaced by talks of competitiveness and reduction of administrative burden. It is clear that the chemical lobbies have won and that the profits of the chemical industry are more important for the Commission than the protection of European citizens from hazardous chemicals. If the Commission goes forward with delaying the REACH reform, the European Green Deal will be remembered as the European Toxic Deal!”

Tatiana Santos, EEB head of chemicals policy said:

“This is a screeching u-turn away from excellent plans for greater environmental and health protections and towards the interests of industrial polluters. It is a shocking betrayal of the Green Deal. They are doing this in the name of helping firms through the energy crisis, but that is just a smokescreen. The sector made excellent profits in the last decade and has generous reserves, while on the other hand, the reforms will take many years to come into force with no short-term impacts on them. If approved tomorrow, that is game over for REACH reform in this legislature and a major blow to the EU Green Deal. We seem set for many more years of rising chemical pollution and the diseases that go with it. We hope the Commission will change its mind and decide not to undermine its own legacy in building a better, brighter future for people and the environment which von der Leyen really placed at the top of her political agenda with the EGD.”

Patrick ten Brink, EEB’s Secretary General said:

“Civil society welcomed the promise of the European Green Deal and have been engaging to make it the transformative agenda we need, but if the promised REACH revision and legal requirements for access and availability of safety data are pushed back and the REACH revisions fundamentally weakened, as the leak suggests, it undermines our and citizen’s confidence that the EGD will provide the answers youth and future generations need. This risks undermining trust in this Commission and the European Project.”

Consumers are widely exposed to chemicals used in a wide range of products, from toys and childcare products to food containers, cosmetics, furniture and textiles, the Commission acknowledges. Scientists have been warning for some time that toxic pollution has crossed the ‘planetary boundary, threatening the entire Earth operating system, along with humanity’. They have also found ‘Forever chemicals’ in all umbilical cords in nearly 30,000 samples analysed as well as microplastics in human breast milk. Polling from late 2019 found that almost all Europeans are worried about the impact of chemicals in everyday products on the environment, a high level of public concern that echoes similar polls throughout the 2010s.

In early October, ministers from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Norway called for a timely revision of REACH from the Commission. MEPs have made similar calls.



EEB Head of Chemicals Policy Tatiana Santos (ES / EN / FR) [email protected] +32 488 918 597 / +32 2 289 1094

EEB Communications Officer for Chemicals Andreea Anca (EN, RO, HU) +32 493 732 105
EEB communications consultant Jack Hunter (EN) [email protected] +33 751 051 805

Parliamentary Assistant to Maria Arena, Basile Ghesquiere (EN, FR) [email protected] +33688632346

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