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  October 18, 2004
Volume 82, Number 42
p. 20


Combined CEFIC, SCI meeting allows high-level discussion on issues facing industry


European chemical industry executives gathered at the bracing North Sea resort of Noordwijk in the Netherlands earlier this month for a meeting billed as the "Global Chemical Industry European Convention."

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The event--a combination of the annual meetings of the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) and the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) with a board meeting of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA)--gave executives an ideal opportunity to discuss the problems facing the chemical industry and the programs being developed to confront them.

Several of these programs come under the aegis of ICCA, including long-range-initiative projects, preparation of dossiers on high-production-volume chemicals, studies on endocrine disrupters, and so on. And on a more general level, executives faced up to growing ownership of chemical companies by financially driven private-equity investors and how this trend might affect participation in the industry's federations and associations.

As to that impact, "the jury is still out," said Peter Elverding, chairman of DSM and the new president of CEFIC, at a press conference that followed the meetings. "We have seen companies owned by private equity before, but mostly they have been small. Nowadays, though, it is large companies, too. Up until now, we have not seen a threat in this trend, but we have to see if it will become one."

More definite impact will come from REACH, the proposed regulatory program for registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals that is working its way through the European Union. The various meetings gave ample opportunity for a quick update on the draft regulation, currently in suspended animation until it can be debated by the new European Parliament later this year or early next year.

"The [national] governments, the European Commission, and the European Parliament realize that REACH is needed, so that there will be one level playing field for Europe," Elverding said. "But there is also more acceptance of the idea that it should not be a burdensome system," he added. "We can be more optimistic about this."

Mathieu Vrijsen, who heads DuPont's operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, observed that when the REACH concept first appeared, the chemical industry and the European Commission "were very far apart on scope and workability. Now, we are very close on scope--it's not a debate at all any more. Now, we are talking about workability. As the REACH process develops, we want that process refocused onto substances where there is real potential for concern."

ONE OF THE major workability issues and one of the major goals for industry is the establishment of a strong European bureau--"like the [U.S.] Environmental Protection Agency," as Vrijsen put it. "We need that so that the authorization capability is not scattered around Europe but pulled together."

Since 1990, the number of European Union regulations affecting the chemical industry has jumped from 19 to 527, Elverding noted. "That's just the European ones. Different countries have implementation measures and extra regulations as well."

What's more, Elverding added, CEFIC research shows that most European citizens think that the chemical industry should face tougher controls. However, "there is no relationship between the degree of control and the number of regulations. 'The more rules, the more safety' is a false assumption, and we need to explain that."

Industry initiatives "will emphasize that well-thought-out legislation is much better and much less costly than piling one law or directive on another. But of course, compliance with existing regulations is a sine qua non," he added.

The main speaker at the CEFIC meeting, Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst, Dutch minister of economic affairs, also referred to REACH, noting that it takes into account "the effects of chemical substances on health and environment. Companies themselves will be responsible for the substances with which they work or which they put on the market," Brinkhorst said.

"Properties and risks must be known. The basic assumption is that employees and consumers should not be exposed to dangerous substances. That means new rules." However, he pointed out, the REACH provisions "do replace more than 60 existing directives and regulations."

According to Brinkhorst, who is chairman of the EU Competitiveness Council, during the Dutch EU presidency, which runs through 2004, "we want to push forward the decision on the REACH proposal." Among the points to consider, he noted, are the impact of REACH on small and medium-sized enterprises, the effective protection of a company's confidential information, the promotion of cooperation on registration, and compliance with global trade obligations.

Brinkhorst pointed out that the new EU commissioner for enterprise policy, Günter Verheugen, has promised the European Parliament that he also will give due consideration to these issues.

Brinkhorst also supported the concept of a European Strategy Group, as proposed by CEFIC's immediate past-president, BASF's Eggert Voscherau. This strategy group--consisting of members of the European Commission and European chemical company chief executives--could fulfill a key role in striking a balance between political, economic, and environmental interests.

That support pleased Elverding, who predicted that "such a group would be of great help in improving the dialogue and bringing political, environmental, and companies' interests closer together. I think we'll be able to indeed establish such a group over the coming period."

  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2004

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