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The big lobby match

More and more chemical compounds enter our body through the air we breathe in, the water we drink, the food we eat. All this promotes European competitiveness – claims the chemistry industry.


It has been called the biggest lobbying campaign in EU history. Everything that exists in the chemical group in Europe – and the USA – has joined forces to prevent the EU from adopting legislation that can eventually provide a better overview of which chemical compounds the industry releases on us, which are most worrying for our health and for the environment. in Europe – and how to get rid of the chemicals that are most problematic.

The major legislative package is in the EU under the name REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals). The first proposal for a REACH regulation was tabled in May 2003. However, two years before, the European Commission presented a White Paper, which corresponds to a parliamentary report, on the future chemicals legislation.

Campaign against environmental law

The White Paper launched a massive campaign by the European Chemical Industry under the auspices of CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Industry Council. According to Inger Schörling, who was REACH's spokesperson in the European Parliament, the campaign included "seminars, conference workshops, lunches, dinners, letters, mass mailing of letters, calls, company visits, media plays and all other features that could be used".

CEFIC has a staff of 140 – and could also draw on the strengths of large corporations such as BP, Bayer, BZSF, Dow, DuPont, ExxonMobil, Novartis, Shell, Solvay, Total and Unilever. In comparison, the European Commission's Directorate – General for the Environment has a staff of 550 – and the Department of Chemicals is only one of about thirty departments. If the departments are roughly the same size, the chemicals department of the EU Commission has a maximum of 20 employees.

Gathered in polar bears and humans

The German chemical group BASF was particularly active in this campaign. But go to their website! There, the group prides itself on the fact that ecological sustainability is the basis for the business – and that it has signed the UN Global Compact, which commits the group to "a precautionary approach to environmental challenges".

The Director-General of CEFIC argued in a letter to EU parliamentarians that "there are few direct signs that man-made chemicals lead to poor health or damage to ecosystems".

But it is certain that chemical compounds from the chemical industry surround us everywhere we go. Some of them are classified as "very worrying". They can lead to cancer, damage heredity, change the hormone balance in our body. Others are not broken down in nature, but are collected in the food chain, increasingly concentrated the further up the food chain one goes. There you will find both polar bears and humans.

About dialing numbers in the table

The chemistry lobby has turned the debate away from health and the environment and unilaterally into the costs. Several tens of studies have been conducted to document the costs that REACH will inflict on manufacturers and users of chemical products.

CEFIC estimated early on that it would cost € 8 billion over 10 years just to conduct the testing and that the total cost to the industry would be between $ 20 and $ 30.

20-30 billion euros, up to around 250 billion euros can seem staggering. But measured against the total production value of the chemical industry (5.000 billion euros), the disappearance is small.

Environmentalists also had to start counting – and then on the economic benefits. A report commissioned by the World Wilderness Fund (WWF) concluded that over time, the health benefits of REACH would be between 57 and 283 billion euros.

2 million jobs at risk!

But the chemistry lobby had no choice. It had to go hard. In December 2002, the German Industrial Association BDI produced a report which concluded that 2.350.000 jobs would disappear in Germany alone. The French chemistry industry posted similar figures.

Few arguments were too cheap. The transatlantic business network TABD determined that REACH would involve medical trials of 12 million animals. As a result, parts of the animal welfare movement became involved in the fight against REACH. It had overlooked that for several years TABD has strongly opposed all attempts by the EU to ban the use of animals for cosmetic testing.

Colin Powell on wild roads

The American chemical industry was also mobilized. The president of the American Chemicals Council, the industry body for the chemical industry in the United States, described REACH as "the most serious risk to our industry in a generation."

The then Secretary of State Colin Powell followed suit when instructing European embassies to influence the various governments as they "will be more sensitive to the impact on competitiveness, employment" than the bureaucrats in the Commission ". It was particularly important to influence the governments of the new EU members in Eastern Europe.

Competitive ability at risk!

It was no wonder that the European Commission began to falter. In March 2003, the Heads of Government of the EU solemnly decided that competitiveness is the key challenge for the EU. And in September of that year, the power trio Blair, Chirac and Schröder – in an open letter to European Commission President Romano Prodi – stated that REACH was a threat to the competitiveness of the European chemical industry.

The intense pressure from this led the European Commission in October 2003 to submit a new proposal for the REACH Regulation, a proposal that was significantly weakened.

And so it was to continue. At every crossroads, the European Commission has weakened the proposal for a REACH regulation – in many respects unrecognizable in relation to what was outlined in the 2001 White Paper.

For consideration in the European Parliament

This autumn, the REACH regulation is being considered by the European Parliament, and in the middle of the reading, the European Commission will send out new amendments. Such a cautious environmental politician as Connie Hedegaard, Minister of the Environment in the Danish right-wing government, found reason to react: "It is very inappropriate and thoughtful that the Commission is now starting to circulate amendments that could end up undermining the basic principles of REACH." (Politics 23.9).

During the deliberations of the European Parliament's Environment Committee on 4 October, the proposal was – according to Greenpeace – further weakened, but two important basic principles have been retained:

- that it is up to the manufacturer to prove that a substance is not harmful,

And that if a substance is dangerous for the environment or health, the manufacturer is obliged to sift it out with a less dangerous one if there are alternatives.

The chemistry lobby has lately tried to get these principles away from the legal text, but failed in the first round. The second round comes at the end of November. Then Parliament will take a stand on the proposal in plenary.

Environmental awareness is far greater in the environmental committee than in parliament as a whole. There is therefore no reason to believe that the final decision will be any better than it was in the environmental committee.

From the European Parliament, it is up to the Council of Ministers, where EU Councils of Ministers will decide whether REACH is about competitiveness or health and the environment.

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