A European Commission’s review of the REACH regulation on Tuesday (5 February) calls for a cut in charges to small businesses under the world's most far-reaching environmental law.

“Our main message will be that so far REACH is functioning well, but there is a need to reduce the impact on SMEs (small and medium enterprises),” a Commission source told EurActiv.

“It has been costly for them to fully implement REACH and the review will highlight the need to address this issue,” the source said, adding that the statute was essentially working well, and would not be changed by the review.

The REACH regulation – the acronym stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals – took effect on 1 June 2007, and is the largest-ever chemical control programme.

The legislation sets out a timetable for manufacturers to eventually register 30,000 of the approximately 100,000 chemicals on the market in Europe.

Under the EU’s precautionary principle, it obliges European businesses to find substitutes for chemicals deemed potentially unsafe.

It also introduced a ‘no data, no market’ rule, an EU regulatory body – the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) - and a candidate list for phasing out hazardous substances.  

But while aspects of the legislation were welcomed by industry and environmentalists, an intense lobby debate heard various complaints that the directive did not go far enough – or that it went too far.

EurActiv understands that the review to be published later on Tuesday will include an annex with a specific list of recommendations.

Fees regulation to be revised

One of these will say that “ECHA is to provide more specific guidance on cost-sharing in Substance Information Sharing Exchange Fora,” which are considered a major problem for SMEs.

“Furthermore, the Commission proposes to revise the Fee Regulation in order to lower the costs for SMEs,” an EU official told EurActiv.

Representatives of the chemicals manufacturer BASF have said that the scheme will cost them an average of €50 million per year, but that “at the end it is worth the money”.

However, environmentalists complain that after six years, the routes for restriction or phase outs of potentially hazardous chemicals are not moving fast enough.

“We would have expected the process to have been further along than it is now as it involves the Commission and member states submitting [lists of] chemicals,” said Greenpeace spokesman Kevin Stairs. “But only a handful of member states are active on this, led by Germany, the Nordic countries, France, Netherlands, Belgium, and the UK to an extent.”

Greenpeace is calling for an increase in the number of chemicals destined for phase out with full member state participation, the active promotion of substitution policies, and a requirement on companies to improve their registration dossiers.