Although much more balanced than earlier drafts, the strategy still condemns the industry across the board as polluting despite its ongoing efforts to reduce its emissions.

The European Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, published on Wednesday, describes the European Commission’s vision for the production and management of chemicals and the role of the chemical industry in the future. 

Luc Triangle, industriAll Europe's General Secretary states: “IndustriAll Europe is happy to note that chemicals are recognised as building blocks for low-carbon, energy- and resource-efficient technologies, materials and products and the chemical industry as provider of solutions for the digital and green transitions. However, although much more balanced than earlier drafts, the strategy still condemns the industry across the board as polluting despite its ongoing efforts to reduce its emissions. And doesn’t clearly enough differentiate between harmful and not harmful substances. We regret this.” 

At the heart of the strategy is the ambition to respond more rapidly and effectively to the challenges posed by hazardous chemicals, in essence to speed up the substitution of most harmful substances. This is supposed to happen through regulatory steps and incentives for innovation. IndustriAll Europe welcomes the commitment to the existing regulatory framework, esp. REACH and the goal of 'one substance, one assessment'. 

“Unfortunately, the strategy focuses only on one dimension of sustainability: the environmental. In the whole document, only one sentence refers to the economic and social dimension, promising that the ‘transition to sustainable chemicals will also be mindful of socio-economic consequences including employment impacts on specific regions, sectors, and workers'. And among the total number of eighty-eight actions foreseen, only two refer to skills and skilling. No other mention of the potential employment impact. This totally disregards the around two million workers in the EU’s chemical industry.”

With strategic autonomy at the centre of political discussions since the start of the pandemic, the strategy describes the goal of a strengthened ‘open strategic autonomy with resilient value chains and diversify sustainable sourcing’ but remains short of calling for value chains within the EU. Luc Triangle: “We would have liked to see a clear commitment to re-shoring of production.”

Stronger enforcement of EU rules for imports and stronger surveillance of products and substances traded on online platforms has been a demand of the European trade unions for years. With the strategy the Commission is now promising steps to better implementation and enforcement in these areas. 

Luc Triangle: “In general, we can say that we see positive and not so positive elements in the strategy. Most of all, we have a lot of questions. Who will define ‘strategic value chains’? Who decides about criteria for essential uses of hazardous substances? What exactly is ‘safe and sustainable by design’ and what challenges will this impose on production processes?"

The Commission promises to establish a high-level roundtable with representatives from industry including SMEs, science and the civil society to realise the strategy’s objectives in dialogue with the stakeholders concerned. “It is clear that trade unions must have a seat at the table!”

Contact: Andrea Husen-Bradley (press and communication), Maike Niggemann (policy adviser)