New Chemical Strategy to set the European Agenda – now is the time to get involved

Tomorrow the European Commission will publish a Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS). While this document from October 14 is non-legally binding, it will lead to a host of new legislative proposals which will reverberate across European industry in the coming months. With the ambitious overall aim of achieving a ’toxic-free environment’, it will seek to ‘help to protect citizens and the environment better against hazardous chemicals and encourage innovation for the development of safe and sustainable alternatives’. This roadmap could have a huge impact on both the chemical industry and its broader supply chain. It is important that industry – as a whole – gets actively involved in the process.

This landmark strategy will result in a two to three-year process in which EU policymakers will work to revise several key criteria in the European chemical regulation (known as REACH) – ultimately determining how chemicals will be manufactured in or imported into the European market in the future. However, the public debate around this far-reaching strategy, which impacts not only the chemical industry but also a plethora of downstream users and producers that make up European industry, is still relatively muted.  

Unofficial drafts of the CSS currently circulating include ideas such as strengthening a hazard-based approach, meaning that all chemicals with certain properties will be immediately regulated, regardless of whether the chemical will ever come into contact with humans or the environment. Other new concepts include introducing a Mixture Assessment Factor to assess exposure to multiple chemicals or mobility as a new criterion to assess if substances should be classified as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs).

It is therefore hardly surprising that chemical companies, their trade associations and even the European Commission’s Directorate General in charge of industry (DG GROW) have been actively following this file and, in the case of the latter, have provided a whole range of comments during the internal Commission review process. It has also become public knowledge that the Directorate General of Public Health and Safety (DG SANTE) has raised concerns about how the Strategy could slow down the availability of new solutions for medical or food packaging due to an increased regulatory burden.  In a generally industry-averse public context, this position was picked up by the media to frame DG SANTE as the ‘defender of the chemical industry’.

The use of chemicals is widespread. To use an example, some people like to point to how renewable energy installations need chemicals to function and more mundane but necessary items such as paint and laptops could also be affected to varying degrees. Advocates of a more restrictive regime will seek to simplify the narrative around stronger regulation. However, this will have a significant impact not just on the chemical industry, but also on companies that buy and need chemicals to operate and innovate. Regardless of the exact terminology used in the CSS and the detailed wording contained in the strategy, the entire value chain could be affected; from pharmaceuticals to technology companies and beyond.

Everyone agrees that we do not want a toxic environment. However, we all want the goods and products that depend on chemicals. It creates a contradiction, but it is a nuanced debate that we need to have in order to find the right balance. It is therefore vitally important that a broader range of stakeholders get involved to ensure a share of voice. Without a constructive debate that satisfies everybody’s needs, a rude awakening awaits many companies and consumers who remain potentially unaware, unprepared – or both.

Authors: Caroline Vogt & Sebastian Maag from the Energy team in FTI Consulting Brussels

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries,its affiliates, or its other professionals.

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