Europe is the second biggest producer of chemicals in the world, accounting for 16.9% of global sales. Chemical manufacturing is the fourth largest industry in the EU with 30,000 companies (95% of which are SMEs) and employs 1.2 million people directly and 3.6 indirectly.
Cities and regions deem it necessary to establish a coherent and simplified legal framework for the chemicals sector to make the industry greener and more effective. The European Committee of the Regions' (CoR) opinion on Safe and sustainable chemicals for a toxic-free environment in Europe's cities and regions recognises the importance of the new chemicals strategy presented by the European Commission and welcomes the steps leading to its implementation. The CoR calls for the full involvement of local and regional authorities considering their local market knowledge, their capacity to assess implementation on the ground and the specificities of each territory.
Chemicals have dominated almost the entire product manufacturing market for the past decades and play a fundamental role in everyday life. Europe is the second biggest producer of chemicals (accounting for 16.9% of global sales) and chemical manufacturing is the fourth largest industry in the EU consisting of 30,000 companies (95% of which are SMEs) and employing 1.2 million people directly and 3.6 million indirectly. Nevertheless, chemicals with hazardous properties can cause harm to human health and the environment. The development of safe and sustainable chemicals is of great importance to move towards climate neutrality and to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Adam Struzik (PL/EPP), President of the Mazovia Region and rapporteur for the CoR opinion on 'Safe and sustainable chemicals for a toxic-free environment in Europe's cities and regions', stated: "The chemical strategy for sustainability is an important element of an economic policy based on green solutions. The effects of its deployment are expected by regions and society. In this opinion, we want to indicate the role of regions in the process of its implementation by focusing on the health of residents and the environment. The strategy is a chance to improve competitiveness through innovation."
The CoR considers it crucial that the implementation of the new chemicals legislation takes into account the opinion of the industry as a whole and the time needed to convert facilities and manage hazardous chemicals that have to be withdrawn from the EU market. Likewise, the strategy should focus on creating a level playing field for all EU and non-EU stakeholders as it is of great importance to protect the innovation and competitiveness of European businesses, in particular SMEs. Specifically, on SMEs, local and regional authorities call for requirements to be comprehensible and administratively manageable while pointing out that a lot of important information is still only available in English which creates a clear language barrier.
The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the need to enhance our society's resilience against economic, social and environmental shocks. Therefore, the CoR considers it essential to make progress towards technological sovereignty and to support research and innovation within the EU. Cities and regions reveal that they face several legal, financial and technical barriers in the handling of chemicals and claim that grants and technical assistance would enable them to support the implementation of the chemicals strategy. Financial support from EU funds for the upskilling and reskilling of workers and for the development of projects supporting sustainable chemicals, especially for regions in transition, would be highly beneficial, according to CoR members.
An interdisciplinary EU database on chemical safety, to be set up by the European Chemicals Agency, is needed in order to establish a uniform and transparent approach to chemicals. This database would also help assess the risks associated with the use and management of chemicals.
The CoR proposes to review and to strengthen the 'Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation' (REACH) and the CLP Regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures as well as to simplify procedures.
The Chemical Strategy for Sustainability – Towards a Toxic-Free Environment was published on 11 October 2020 by the European Commission, as part of the Zero Pollution Ambition, one of the priorities of the European Green Deal.
The opinion on Safe and sustainable chemicals for a toxic-free environment in Europe's cities and regions falls under the remits of the CoR's Green Deal Going Local (GDGL) working group. Launched in June 2020 and composed of 13 local and regional elected representatives , the GDGL working group has the objective to guarantee that EU cities and regions are directly involved in the definition, implementation and assessment of the numerous initiatives that fall under the European Green Deal, the EU's sustainable growth strategy to reach climate-neutrality by 2050.
Berta López Domènech
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