Breaking New Regulatory Ground: The EU's Comprehensive Chemicals Regulation Policy

With REACH the European Commission has attempted to establish a comprehensive legal tool with which it can control the manufacture and import of chemicals in the EU. Additionally, the EU hopes to use the rigorous REACH standards to create a reputation for European chemicals and chemical products as meeting the highest standards of product performance and safety. The creators of REACH hope that its successful implementation will generate confidence and predictability for the European chemical industry and for its trading partners.

A great number of stakeholders, ranging from the EU itself, to environmental and industrial organizations, to national governments within the EU and abroad, published a vast amount of impact-assessment studies in which they analyzed the potential outcomes of REACH. But because stakeholder studies by their nature focus on issues of concern to a given constituency, the studies have used a variety of methodologies and have generally focused on costs, not benefits. According to the renowned economist Jacques Pelkmans, these studies were drafted "not with the purpose of assessing the analytically possible [or] likely impact but with pure lobbying objectives in mind." REACH has undoubtedly been the object of fierce lobbying; however, the cacophony of voices heard in the process is a reminder that the regulatory regime ought to foster a healthy dialogue between the regulator and all stakeholders in the interest of transparency.

While it is yet unclear what impact the "better regulation" mindset will have on European policies, REACH is undoubtedly a landmark and a comprehensive piece of legislation. What effect will REACH have on the chemical industry in the EU, or globally? Do REACH's unique features represent the next phase in environmental and health regulation, or will these same innovations make the program costly, ineffective, and ultimately unenforceable? Perhaps it is best to view the process of constructing and implementing REACH as an elaborate experiment designed to find new ways to protect human and environmental health while also creating a nurturing environment for industry. The results are still in the making.

Line Friis Lindner is currently a Ph.D. student at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration in Vienna, Austria, in the field of regulatory economics and food safety.