Chemicals and Environment: what can industry expect from the EU this year?

FleishmanHillard publishes today its EU Environment and Chemicals legislation timeline. What can industry expect from the EU in the coming  years? Our timeline provides a tour d’horizon of the most important milestones to look for.

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When he took office, Commission President Juncker promised the Commission would be “bigger on the bigger things” and would support industry’s growth and jobs. His “10 priorities” said it clearly: “We need to bring industry’s weight in the EU’s GDP back to 20% by 2020”. Surprisingly to many, this did not seem to include ambitious environmental targets: sustainable development and the environment were hardly mentioned in the 10 priorities. In the mission letter he sent to the new Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella, priority was given to the avoidance of new environmental legislation and ensuring existing rules are “fit for purpose”. The first move of the Commission was to withdraw the circular economy package and its legislative proposal on waste, which threatened to become overly broad and burdensome. This move was strongly criticised by NGOs, MEPs and Member States, and the Commission now needs to demonstrate its environmental ambition. In this context, what can be expected this year for environment and chemicals?

Ensuring that existing legislation is implemented and supports competitiveness

EU environmental policy is well developed, and a driver for global progress. It is however often criticised for burdening industry and for being applied unequally by Member States. Making it “fit for purpose” therefore means, in Juncker’s agenda, ensuring that existing rules are not only properly applied, but that they also support EU jobs and growth. This is why 2015 will see the evaluation of a broad range of existing EU policies on water, environmental liability, environmental noise and the birds and habitats directives. These evaluations could lead to future policy proposals to tackle inefficiencies and unnecessary burdens.

What this means for now is that industry should participate in the early stages of this process. The Commission would likely welcome any information on the current practical implementation of existing legislation.

Revising the waste legislation in a push towards a circular economy

In 2015, all eyes will be on the upcoming circular economy proposal. Whilst focus will of course be on the proposal, the main legal impact will come from the revision of the waste legislation which it will contain. Juncker’s Commission made the controversial move of withdrawing the original proposal, promising to replace it with a more ambitious one. It will have to prove it is able to present a package that makes economic and environmental sense. The proposal is expected for the end of the year. MEPs expect a strong signal to make sure that toxic substances are kept out of the production stream early on, taking into account the importance of waste and recycling for sustainable growth.

Whether or not the Commission will answer these calls remains unsure. What appears at this stage however is that the Commission is looking to ensure its proposal will be realistic and can actually be implemented by industry without creating unnecessary burden. Despite the Commission’s limited environmental agenda, the real question is whether the Parliament and Council will accept its proposal or will decide to strongly enhance it.

An ongoing focus on industry’s emissions into the environment

Meanwhile, work will continue on industrial emissions into air and water. There are ongoing discussions on the emission of pollutants from medium combustion plants, and the Commission recently adopted a watch list of substances to be monitored in surface water. The emission of hazardous substances in the environment will continue to be the focus as the Commission is currently working on the elaboration of a similar watch list for groundwater, and is expected to come forward with a proposal for a strategy to tackle the presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Although these topics attract less political attention than the circular economy, they could be the source of significant regulatory obligations for industry. Preparatory work is ongoing to define substances of interest and ways to measure their presence into the environment.

A new beginning for EU chemicals legislation?

Concrete changes are also expected in chemicals legislation this year. On nanomaterials, the Commission has been due to present proposals on the definition of nanomaterials and their regulation under REACH since 2014. They are now expected for the first half of this year and could impact a large number of chemical producers and end-users as nanomaterials are more and more closely examined by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The Commission originally planned to present a proposal for the creation of an EU-wide register but now appears to have changed its thinking on this, seeing it could create additional burden with uncertain results in terms of consumer information and protection.

Meanwhile, the implementation of existing regulations on biocides, REACH and RoHS will continue, but industry stakeholders are invited to transmit experience of the advantages and difficulties of implementing EU chemicals legislation across Member States and sectors. This feedback will be crucial in feeding into the ongoing evaluation of existing chemicals legislation, its interaction with health and safety legislation and its overall impact on the EU’s industrial performance. It will be important for industry to take this opportunity to make its voice and concerns heard (see our previous blog post on the REFIT of chemicals legislation).

The work plan of the Commission for 2016 should contain the long-awaited proposal on endocrine disruptors and could contain a number of new proposals on chemicals legislation. Whether or not they will drive change is partly in the hands of industry. If companies do not make their voices heard in the ongoing evaluation and consultations they are likely to see any existing flaws and inefficiencies maintained.

Lucie L’HôpitalRob Anger, Aaron McLoughlin, Pauline Tawil, on behalf of the M&I team


April 30, 2015 | 9:31 PM

Chemicals and Environment: what can industry expect from the EU this year?: