Post-pandemic working practices and Commission allocations for additional projects will allow the EU’s chemicals regulator to just about fund itself after an 8% per year cut in its direct financing, according to its executive director.
Bjorn Hansen, chief at the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) since 2018, said that the current 2021-2027 EU budget – the multiannual financial framework (MFF) – will mean the regulator’s annual budget will stand at €113m/year, adjusted for inflation.
Roughly one third of ECHA’s income comes from chemicals registrations, those applied for by companies who want to produce and trade chemicals in the 27-country bloc, as set out by the regulatory regime Reach.
Details of ECHA’s financing can be found on its website (opens new tab).
However, Hansen was optimistic because, despite the deep cut in EU funding, ECHA’s “main crown jewel” – its 600-strong workforce – will remain unchanged.
The savings, he said, will come from new post-pandemic working practices, as 50% of those 600 employees are set to remain permanently home-based.
Hansen also spoke about the role the chemicals industry and its regulator can play in the implementation of the EU’s Green Deal, which aims to decarbonise the economy by 2050, and about the regulatory conundrum the UK finds itself in post-Brexit.
The interview was conducted on 26 January 2021.
PANDEMIC HOME-WORKING TO STAY
Like many private companies, ECHA realised in 2020 that home-working is viable as a permanent option; it is not only the home offices that have rapidly sprung up globally over the last 10 months, but everything linked to former office working habits, which are already fading into history.
Hansen said that not only 50% of ECHA employees will be permanently home based, but also that presidential meetings will be reduced by 50%, and this all will have a knock-on effect on office maintenance spending.
He said this would make it easier to cope with the 8% cut in the ECHA budget.
“[In the final MMF outcome] We ended up not as bad as we had feared; we got a substantial financial cut, but we didn’t get a cut in our main crown jewel: our staff and their knowledge. On one hand, we did our homework analysing where spending could be cut going forward,” said Hansen.
“On the other, the pandemic saved us a lot of money, because we do not travel, we don’t hold meetings physically – paying flights and hotels for experts – which means substantial costs savings. In our Helsinki headquarters, we have saved a lot on things like catering, security, etcetera.”
With half the workforce remote and half the meetings held virtually, half of those savings will obviously remain a permanent feature in ECHA’s day-to-day management.
ECHA’s work may be affected, however, by the amount of outsourcing to contractors it has had to cut; Hansen calls them “interims”, or experts normally hired for a period to do specific tasks, which have been reduced by 40 staff members.
The EU’s MMF does contemplate, however, additional financing for any extra tasks ECHA may be told to undertake. In a previous interview with ICIS, Hansen had complained that new bodies like the Observatory for Nanomaterials (EU-ON), or the waste and microplastics directives would add pressure on an overstretched regulator.
“[Those new tasks] are now coming with fresh resources. If we get an additional task, we get more staff. The cut in interims, however, has impacted on our work and we had to scale down some activities,” said Hansen.
ICIS, 28 January 2021