MEPs hear of the socio-economic importance of chemistry in Europe

January 30, 2004

Brussels, 29 Jan 2004

With discussions on a proposed new regulatory framework for chemicals set to begin in the European Parliament in the near future, the President elect of the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) was invited on 28 January to outline to MEPs his views on the socio-economic importance of chemistry in Europe.

The seminar was organised by AllChemE, the alliance for chemical sciences and technologies in Europe, and hosted by the UK MEP, David Bowe. Mr Bowe welcomed the timing of the event, which he said would form part of the ongoing debate surrounding the proposed REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) legislation.

'We hold this meeting at an opportune moment as the REACH proposals, the biggest piece of EU legislation ever seen, will be discussed in Parliament soon,' Mr Bowe said. He warned, however, that in light of the upcoming Parliamentary elections, the proposals are unlikely to get a first reading before spring 2005.

The RSC's Dr Simon Campbell began his presentation by stating: 'Chemistry pervades every aspect of our lives, underlying all of the biological processes in the body. It is also central to the success of the EU, helping to ensure our health, wealth and environment.'

The chemical industry as a whole represents 2.4 per cent of EU GDP, Dr Campbell pointed out, and whilst Europe still remains the largest producer and consumer of chemicals in the world, Asia is fast catching up. 'The rate of growth of Asia's share in the world trade of chemicals is 4.9 per cent per year, compared with the EU's annual growth rate of 1.6 per cent. By 2015, Europe will have lost its leadership in this sector.'

This, argued Dr Campbell, is due to the inefficient legislative framework currently governing the chemicals industry within the EU. In principle, therefore, he welcomes the proposed REACH legislation, but stressed: 'We must get it right!'

On the positive side, REACH will improve the risk assessment of chemicals, reduce bureaucracy, create synergy between existing regulations, and positively encourage non-experimentation on animals, he said.

Conversely, Dr Campbell warned that requiring all chemicals imported into the EU in quantities greater than one tonne to be thoroughly tested would place a high financial burden on the industry, leading to a erosion of competitiveness, and inevitably increasing the numbers of experiments carried out on animals.

The RSC's position, he said, is that the REACH proposals should not lead to the withdrawal of useful drugs, that the testing regime for chemicals should be based on an assessment of true societal and environmental risk, rather than simply inherent hazard, and that the new regulations shouldn't inhibit innovation.

Dr Campbell recalled the words of the current president of the Competitiveness Council, Irish Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mary Harney: 'The chemicals industry is not the enemy - we have here an innovative industry that should not be hindered by excess bureaucracy.'

Dr Campbell said: 'The chemicals industry is a global one; if EU legislation favours the industry, trade will flow here, if not, the opposite will happen.' Research capacities and investment will migrate to where trade is most concentrated, he added, making the point that failing to ensure the competitiveness of the industry would contradict the EU's target of increasing research investment to three per cent of GDP.

'In 1995, EU based pharmaceutical companies invested 26 per cent of their total research budgets outside the Union. By 1999 that figure had risen to 34 per cent, and currently, 41 per cent of research spending by EU companies goes to other parts of the world.

'We should value our chemicals industry, and when introducing new legislation, we should seek to enhance it, not constrain it,' Dr Campbell concluded.

For further information on the proposed REACH package, please visit: micals/chempol/whitepaper/reach.htm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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