‘Game over’ for EU’s REACH chemical safety review, campaigners say
With the EU elections looming in spring 2024, campaigners worry that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will seek to please her political base in Germany with a softball approach to chemicals regulation.
After more than a year of delay, the EU executive is expected to table its long-awaited revision of the REACH regulation on chemicals during the last quarter of 2023.
The REACH regulation was adopted in 2006 to protect human health and the environment from toxic chemicals, and a revision was promised as part of the Commission’s chemicals strategy for sustainability, which aims for “a toxic-free environment”.
But campaigners fear that the end of von der Leyen’s mandate and the European Parliament elections next year will result in further delays and watering down of the proposal.
“This delay is far more significant than ‘just one year’,” said Mariana Goulart, policy officer for chemicals at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a green umbrella group.
“With European Parliament elections to take place in May 2024, the delay is effectively ‘game over’ for the REACH reform during this legislature and under this Commission,” she told EURACTIV.
Campaigners’ concerns are chiefly related to von der Leyen’s German origins and the country’s love affair with the chemical industry, which accounts for 10% of its economy.
The German chemical sector took a serious hit last year due to the war in Ukraine, which sent gas and electricity prices through the roof. The final straw came in October, when BASF announced it would “permanently” scale back its operations in Europe, citing rising energy costs and concerns over regulation.
This raised the alarm at the highest level of the German government, and campaigners fear von der Leyen will avoid rocking the boat further ahead of an election year.
“Von der Leyen being German, there is fear that her national political ties may influence her end-of-mandate decisions, especially considering that her own political future may depend on concluding her EU mandate on good terms with her fellow German politicians,” Goulart said.