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You are here : Home > News > Speeches > March 2005 > Address by Lucien Lux, Minister for the Environment, current President of the "Environment" Council, to the Conference of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) on REACH
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Address by Lucien Lux, Minister for the Environment, current President of the "Environment" Council, to the Conference of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) on REACH

Date of Speech : 11-03-2005

Place : Bruxelles

Speaker : Lucien Lux

Policy area : Environment Environment

Mr Secretary General

Mr Commissioner Stavros Dimas

Honourable Members

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I accepted your invitation to represent the Council at the Conference of the European Trade Union Confederation on REACH, which brings together the main players in the debate on the reform of European legislation on chemical substances. You should know that throughout all of my political activities, social and trade union affairs have been of major importance, and it is also in this context that I will present to you the "Environment" Council’s concerns at this time regarding REACH.

REACH, as the Commissioner just said, is an important example of what the new type of European policy can be in the context of the Lisbon Process, based on an integrated and balanced approach among the three dimensions of sustainable development:  environmental protection, social cohesion, and the competitiveness of our economies, and that is why the REACH issue is one of the Luxembourg Presidency’s priorities. I am convinced that REACH will give fresh impetus to European industry in terms of competitiveness. I am certain that it is only through this future European industry, based on the development and use of chemicals that protect the environment and the health of workers and consumers, that we will be able to achieve a lasting industry for the long term, which quite obviously will effectively contribute to fighting unemployment. And thus REACH will contribute to the European social model by creating an industrial environment in favour of employees who will benefit from a working environment that meets high standards in the area of health and labour security with regard to chemicals. This high environmental quality is based on the precautionary approach, which is one of REACH’s fundamental principles.

Even if, as Minister for the Environment, my main concern will be to achieve a high level of protection of the environment and health, you can be reassured that I will also strive to achieve a REACH that is balanced, flexible and practicable at every level with no excessive bureaucracy, not only in businesses, but also in the national and European public administrations. Such a REACH will be a success for Europe, because the risks of a potential relocation will be reduced and the job level can be maintained. This tailor-made REACH will make it possible, through the World Trade Organisation, to reduce any potential social or environmental dumping and will serve as an example at the global level.

You are surely aware that two formations of the Council, namely the "Competitiveness" Council, currently chaired by my Luxembourg colleague Jeannot Krecké, Minister for the Economy and Foreign Trade, and the "Environment" Council, work together on this important undertaking of legislative reform on chemicals. Allow me to review some of the key issues that, until now, were the subject of a political debate in the Council. During the high-level reading of the REACH proposal under the Irish Presidency, the subject of the debates was, among others, the authorization policies, prioritisation, the substitution principle, the OSOR proposal – one substance one registration – and the duty of care, a subject which is very important to you, I suppose, as I saw in your declaration on REACH.

Much progress was made under the Dutch Presidency and I would like to be able to say as much four months from now once the Luxembourg Presidency has come to the end of its term.  And thus the Council’s Ad hoc Group, which in a way is our "laboratory of ideas," has attempted to identify the positions of the Member States and has collected all their proposals for amendments in the "footnotes documents" on Headings I to III that will make it possible for future presidencies, this time our British and Austrian colleagues, to detect common positions in order to reach a political agreement. Alongside the Ad hoc Group’s technical work, several key points were the subject of political debates in the Council. And so the results and findings of 36 impact studies, the issue of substances in the articles and the inclusion of certain substance risk elements during prioritisation, were the subject of political debates in the "Environment" Council of 20 December under the Dutch Presidency.

The OSOR approach was greeted with a certain amount of sympathy in the "Competitiveness" Council in November 2004: it was hoped that this approach would accentuate REACH’s practicability. Nevertheless, I must admit that we had to ask the countries that proposed it, namely Hungary and the United Kingdom, to provide details about their approach because many practical and technical questions remained unanswered. Thus, we expect to revisit this toward the end of the Luxembourg Presidency.

You are certainly aware that our Presidency intends to concentrate efforts on an exhaustive, detailed and complete discussion of REACH Headings IV to VIII and all the technical appendices in the proposal. Since January 2005, the Chemicals Ad hoc Group had already carried out an exhaustive and detailed review of Heading IV on information in the supply chain and Heading V on the rights and obligations of downstream users. There was also a meeting with national experts at which the corresponding appendices were also analysed.

In Heading IV, the concerns on the protection of health and worker security were among the main topics of the Ad hoc Group’s discussion. The discussion also addressed the right of workers to access information, which is also one of your Confederation’s demands if my information is correct. We also gave a mandate to the Council’s Legal Service to clarify the possibility of having REACH coexist with a national legislation that is often more restrictive in the area of health protection and worker security regarding chemicals. The answer should be available soon.

The review of Heading VI will generate discussions on the division of responsibilities and roles for evaluating substances among the competent authorities, the Member States and the future European Chemicals Agency, which will have its headquarters in Helsinki. The debates on this Heading will have to take into account differences in size and administrative capacity of the different Member States. That is why we are expecting very divergent thoughts on the proposal’s impact on the national competent authorities of the Member States. The Headings on the authorisation and restrictions of chemical substances aim to eliminate and gradually replace hazardous substances and preparations. This will foster innovation and the search for substitutes by the producers of these substances that are of particular concern.

Finally, allow me to say a few words about our relations with Parliament which, in my opinion, are essential for an exchange of views and to identify any potential stumbling blocks. It is with this in mind that Jeannot Krecké, who chairs the "Competitiveness" Council, and myself, participated in the public hearing on REACH that the European Parliament organized in January 2005. In addition, contacts between our REACH team in the field and the different parliamentary committees involved in the REACH issue, obviously with the rapporteurs, the Honourable Guido Sacconi, "the authority" on REACH, are made almost every day. This exchange and REACH’s current pace, both in the Council and in Parliament, should enable our successors to arrive at a political agreement in the immediate future.

As for the Council, we plan to have a detailed review of REACH at the  "Competitiveness" Council of 6 June 2005 and at our  "Environment" Council of 24 June 2005 and of certain pending critical points and issues related to the practicability of REACH, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises. This will be analyzed at our small group workshop of 10-11 May 2005 in Luxembourg, to which we have also invited the Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation.

Finally, I wish to congratulate you on your initiative of organizing this conference today and tomorrow. In my opinion, this will be an important step on the laborious road that aims to arrive at a practicable REACH system without calling into question the founding principles of the proposed regulation, such as the precautionary approach in particular.

Thank you for your attention.

This page was last modified on : 12-03-2005

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