Does the European Parliament have any say in chemicals policy?
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Does the European Parliament have any say in chemicals policy?

One of the biggest democratic exercises in the world is approaching rapidly. More than 400 million people from 28 different countries will vote in this month’s European Parliament elections. Or at least they should, especially if they care about progressive chemicals policies.

The European Parliament is one of the legislative bodies of the European Union, and actually the only legislative body in the world whose decisions have a direct legal effect in multiple sovereign nations.

Apart from supervisory and budgetary responsibilities, the European Parliament is the arena for democratic debate on EU-level issues and actions. It has great influence over several important decisions, such as European chemicals policy.

A problem in the European Union is the discrepancy of outside influence. Earlier this year, Corporate Europe Observatory released a report describing how corporate interests influence decisions in the law-making process within the EU Commission, arguing that civil society groups are unable to match the privileged access and financial resources of the corporate sector.

“Electing environmentally conscious parliamentarians improves the chances of the European Parliament stifling unreasonable draft decisions”

A result from this extensive lobby work is that draft decisions from the EU Commission tend to favour industry more than they should.

This problem is, of course, found in the European Parliament as well, but unlike the EU Commission, the parliament is elected by the people and is meant to reflect their opinions. Parliamentarians tend to be more susceptible to public pressure because of this, and the fact that they often wish to be re-elected.

Seeing as 84 percent of European citizens are worried about how chemicals affect their health and the environment, electing environmentally conscious parliamentarians improves the chances of the European Parliament stifling unreasonable draft decisions from the EU Commission.

And in the recent past, we have seen the parliament preventing the use of several hazardous substances in the European market by taking a number of progressive decisions regarding Europe’s chemicals policy.

“We have seen the parliament preventing the use of several hazardous substances in the European market by taking a number of progressive decisions”

In November last year, the European Parliament voted in favour of a resolution against the draft decision from the EU Commission to grant an authorisation for using sodium dichromate, which is classified as cancer-causing, mutagenic and toxic for reproduction, in dyeing of wool. And, more recently, the European Parliament voted against a proposed authorisation for DEHP, a phthalate known to be cancer-causing and hormone disrupting.

In both of these cases, one of the main arguments from the European Parliament has been that safer alternatives to the hazardous chemicals in question exist and are widely used.

In theory, these resolutions can be ignored by the EU Commission but, in practice, they are almost always respected. Therefore, the European Parliament has real power to affect chemicals policies in a positive way and be a counterbalance to industry-friendly draft decisions.

Voting will take place over a course of four days (23rd to 26th of May) with results being announced late in the evening on Sunday 26th of May.