EU must deliver REACH revision before end of current legislature

The European Commission should publish the revision of the regulation for evaluating and authorising chemicals (REACH) before the end of this legislature to protect human health and the environment, writes Zakia Khattabi.

Zakia Khattabi is Belgium’s federal minister for Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development and Green Deal.

Following the recent positive advice from the Regulatory Scrutiny Board (RSB), the independent body within the European Commission that advises the College of Commissioners, the last barrier to the Commission publishing the much-awaited revision of the regulation for evaluating and authorising chemicals (REACH) has been passed.

With crucial days ahead for biodiversity at the COP15 international conference and when we know that pollution caused by chemicals contributes dramatically to global biodiversity loss, I urge the Commission to publish this revision as fast as possible.

The REACH Regulation was adopted in 2006 to better protect human health and the environment from the risks of chemicals, while promoting the competitiveness of the EU chemical industry.

This is one of the main instruments that sets standards for chemicals. As part of the Green Deal and its European Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, the revision aims to adapt the legislation to put the European chemical industry on the path to sustainability and achieve the ambition of a toxic free environment, while ensuring that innovation and competitiveness of our chemical industries are stimulated.

This EU Regulation has not been revised for almost 20 years even if new chemical substances widely used by industry are now identified as harmful to the environment and human health.

This is particularly the case for certain polymers and for endocrine disruptors such as Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), for which there are currently no regulations.

The Commission initially announced the publication of the REACH revision for 2022. Following rumours that this might be postponed, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain and Sweden sent a Joint Letter on 20 June asking the Commission “to live up to the Chemicals Strategy’s ambitions and make them a reality”.

On 4 October, an additional Joint Letter from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Norway asked the Commission “to proceed with the planned revision of REACH”. 

Some companies have also expressed their support for a rapid publication. For the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), the plethora of pending legislation “puts the EU’s chemical industry at a crucial crossroads”, and the Commission’s intended policy changes create a “significant ripple effect across many value chains relying on chemicals”.

In addition, on 15 December, 22 global consumer companies sent a Joint Letter encouraging the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, “to deliver an ambitious REACH revision and to do it as soon as possible”.

Even so, the Commission’s Work Programme 2023 has now announced the postponement of the publication of the revision to the fourth quarter of 2023.

With its upcoming EU-presidency in the first half of 2024, Belgium has expressed multiple times its willingness to see the revision come as soon as possible, ideally in the second quarter of 2023, in order to be able to work for a revision before the end of this EU legislature.

As the RSB now delivered its favourable opinion on the revision of the REACH Regulation, I am once more calling the Commission to publish the REACH revision as soon as possible.

This Commission has already proven that it can achieve high ambitions on climate and environment policies when it lives up to its Green Deal promises. It is now time to deliver on one of the crucial files  for the protection of a healthy environment.


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