EU ministers reach broad consensus on batteries regulation

EU environment ministers adopted on Thursday (17 March) a general approach for the EU batteries regulation, centred on France’s compromise proposal, which had drawn all-around praise for being “balanced” and “ambitious”. The Council and the Parliament will now negotiate to agree on the final draft. EURACTIV France reports.

“We are delighted to see the unanimous support of the member states for the [French] presidency’s compromise text, which is largely based on the Commission’s proposal,” said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.

French Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili said that “with the adoption of this draft regulation on batteries, the member states have just laid a solid foundation for building an economic sector worthy of the 21st century”. Pompili chaired the meeting as France currently holds the EU Council presidency.

The batteries regulation aims to regulate the entire life cycle of batteries and promote the implementation of a circular economy.

The Council’s general approach to the regulation retained key elements of the Commission’s initial proposal: extending producer responsibility, including recycled materials, reinforcing the due diligence of supply chains, and the battery passport.

Pompili also pointed out “significant improvements”, like the extension of the text’s scope to include ready-to-use battery modules and batteries for all electric vehicles, as well as member states’ right of initiative to restrict the use of hazardous chemicals in batteries.

After the Commission presented its initial proposal in December 2020, ministers in the EU Environment Council held their first debate in March 2021, followed by two progress reports in June and December 2021.

On 17 March, the Council finally adopted a so-called “general approach” to the batteries regulation. With this text, “it is essential that we send the necessary messages to promote clean production and allow the Union to become a leader in safe, ethical and sustainable battery production,” Pompili added.

A flexible approach

France has made the batteries regulation one of its presidency priorities. Many EU environment ministers praised France’s compromise solution as instrumental in reaching consensus during the Council session.

Austrian Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler spoke of “a balanced compromise”, while her Finnish counterpart, Emma Kari, called it “an ambitious regulation that harmonises the battery market across the EU while leaving room for manoeuvre to national producers”.

Latvian Environment Minister Artūrs Toms Plešs the EU was now “achieving our goal of striking a balance between ambitions and reality for the effective implementation of the regulation”.

Steffi Lemke, Germany’s environment minister, said the regulation could make “an important contribution to sustainability, but also to European competitiveness”.

Even representatives of EU countries less satisfied with the text agreed to back it.

“Not all our concerns have been taken into account in this compromise text. But Bulgaria believes that enormous progress has already been made and that is why, in a spirit of compromise, we can support the general approach,” said Environment Minister Borislav Sandov.

The proposed text sets out rules for developing a battery production chain, with a focus on the circular economy and respect for the environment and human rights, to achieve industrial independence.

Those backing the text particularly stressed its flexibility.

“The regulation must be flexible […] enough to pass the test of time, as the field of battery technology is constantly and rapidly evolving. We believe that today’s general approach meets this objective,” said Finland’s Kari.

Luxembourg’s Environment Minister, Carole Dieschbourg, added the text in its current form “will allow us to address, in a coherent and sufficiently flexible way, the whole cycle of production, use, and management of batteries and battery waste”.

Positive comments also mentioned the consideration of chemical regulations.

Tight schedule

Reactions to the proposed implementation schedule were more mixed.

“We are ready to accept the schedule as a compromise. However, we draw the presidency’s attention to the respect of these deadlines”, insisted Hungary’s minister Gábor Baranyai. “It is a schedule that must be ambitious but we must remain realistic,” he added.

The challenge is to give industry time to organise so it can meet the EU’s new requirements, while, at the same time, moving as quickly as possible.

In an interview with EURACTIV in February, French Renew Europe MEP Pascal Canfin said he wanted to accelerate the regulation’s entry into force by six months to January 2027 to ensure the regulation is adopted by the end of 2022.

However, Slovenian Environment Minister Tamara Weingerl Požar also warned that “shortening the deadlines in the upcoming negotiations could jeopardize the whole balance and could be a bad thing for the regulation.”

Latvia’s Toms Plešs stressed “it is indeed essential that member states have sufficient time to adapt their national frameworks and for economic operators to adapt to the rather strict requirements of this proposal”.

Industry has also welcomed Council’s general approach to the batteries regulation.

RECHARGE, the European association representing the battery value chain, welcomed “the short but reasonable implementation deadlines”.

However, in a statement made on 17 March, it recommended “addressing the remaining critical gaps during the upcoming trilogue discussions” between the EU Council, the Parliament, and the European Commission.

Negotiations ahead 

The Council will now start negotiations on a final compromise text with the European Parliament, which adopted its position on 10 March.

“The Commission welcomes the strong mandate from the Council, combined with a strong mandate adopted by the Parliament last week. This is an important ingredient for an effective trialogue,” commented Commissioner Sinkevičius.

While the Commissioner voiced hope that “a compromise can be found in the coming months”, he said the Commission is reserving its position on the chapter concerning the end-of-life of batteries, in order “not to hamper the consolidation of a real internal market for the recycling of used batteries without restrictions on hazardous substances”.

The revision of the REACH regulation on the authorisation of chemical substances on the European market should be consistent with the objectives of the batteries regulation to make it easier for the industry to adapt, he added.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/Zoran Radosavljevic]


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