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President of the European Commission
Inauguration of the European Chemical Agency
Lord Mayor Pajunen,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be in Helsinki today to perform the official opening of the European Chemicals Agency. This Agency is a living proof of what the European Union concretely does for European citizens. It will be decisive in turning the new European chemicals legislation REACH into reality.
The REACH legislation certainly is by far the largest legislative project adopted by the EU over the recent years. It replaces 40 legislative texts and creates a single EU-wide system for the management of chemicals produced in Europe or imported into Europe.
Before REACH, there was a general lack of knowledge regarding 99% of the chemicals (around 100,000 substances) that were placed on the market before 1981. Prior to that date, no stringent health and safety tests were needed to market chemicals.
Our new REACH legislation is therefore very important for European citizens and businesses because it combines a high level of protection of human health and the environment; enhances competitiveness and innovation; promotes non-animal testing methods; and prevents the fragmentation of the internal market.
The REACH legislation, which is operational since the 1st of June, will improve the lives of all our citizens because it concerns some 30.000 of the substances currently used in everyday products. At the same time, REACH will provide important opportunities to European industry. This is true for the chemicals industry itself. Let me recall that the chemicals industry is the third largest manufacturing industry in the EU, generating 1.7 million jobs and indirect employment for more than 3 million people. In total, the EU produces 31% of the world's chemicals, compared to 28% for the United States.
But REACH will also provide important opportunities to other industries which look to the chemicals industry as a driver of innovation and as key to resolving critical challenges, such as greater energy efficiency and combating climate change.
The REACH legislation therefore fits into our overall strategy to improve European industry competitiveness, to deliver a citizen’s agenda and to equip Europe for the challenges of the global age.
REACH does not stop at Europe’s borders. From the economic viewpoint, REACH will affect almost all manufacturing industries and trade with Europe.
Furthermore, many countries are aware of the need for a comprehensive and coherent approach to managing the risks from chemicals – as mandated by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. They find in REACH many worthwhile ideas about the path to be taken. I hope they will follow Europe’s example. The interest that other countries have shown already in the work of our Agency here in Helsinki is a very positive signal.
Today is a time for celebrating our success. Finding an agreement on REACH was not easy. One of my first tasks as President of the Commission was to consider how best to advance REACH, bearing in mind the immense controversy which had surrounded its launching and the difficulties in the initial negotiations. With the support of the Vice-President Verheugen and Commissioner Dimas in particular, the Commission worked on a more balanced version of the legal proposal which at the end got the support of all parties involved.
It fell to the Finnish Presidency to secure the final agreement. This was achieved following very difficult negotiations in what was an outstanding achievement for the Presidency. And here I would also like to pay tribute to the constructive engagement of the European Parliament, and in particular to its rapporteur, Mr Sacconi, in helping us to secure the vital breakthrough.
One of the key features of REACH was the requirement to establish the Agency, and of course as we now know, it was decided to have its seat here in Helsinki. This was done in record time as REACH triggered real responsibilities and real obligations which could not be deferred. The Commission devoted an unprecedented level of time and resources, including the secondment of several experienced officials to the Agency, to ensure that it could get off to a good start.
We have made remarkable progress in overcoming the many obstacles. This has been due to the efficiency, dedication and tenacity of those who carried out the preparations. We were helped immensely by the Finnish authorities.
Prime Minister, I would like to express my sincere thanks to you for your impressive support. The help of your authorities was always prompt, clear, and unwavering. This led to the timely conclusion of the Seat Agreement between the Agency and Finland.
And I would like also to thank Lord Mayor Pajunen of Helsinki, for the valuable support from the City in helping with accommodation and providing practical assistance. The staff of the Agency and their families who have come to Helsinki have been very impressed by the welcome and help in this city. And of course they will enjoy working in this beautiful city.
The Agency’s visible presence in Helsinki will be an important reminder to its citizens of the positive impact of the European Union, and its capacity to bring together many different nationalities and stakeholders.
The Commission depends fundamentally on the Agencies to ensure effective execution of their tasks and to advise the Commission on many sensitive topics. A report of the French Senate in October 2005 noted that the European Union had created more regulatory agencies in the previous 50 months than it had during the first 50 years of European integration, and wondered whether this was a cause for celebration, satisfaction or worry. But rather than view the proliferation of agencies as a dilution of the executive function of the Commission, as some fear, I prefer to consider the agencies as useful tools, where necessary, to help us to perform that executive function more efficiently and with more impact.
The use of agencies has helped us to ensure that public policy retains continuity, credibility and visibility, and that we, as the Commission, fulfil our obligation to protect the general interest of the European Union. As the French Senate also noted, the use of regulatory agencies is a means of reconciling democratic legitimacy and scientific legitimacy without the latter overtaking the former.
I am sure that this Agency will confirm this theory and that it will provide for the highest quality scientific advice to the Commission. This is essential to effectively fulfil the objective of the legislation which has created it: to manage the risks to our citizens and the environment, and to avoid unnecessary burdens on industry and public authorities.
This Agency will also have to establish its reputation at the international level. I am convinced that Europe has to be proactive in engaging in the debate at global level about how best to deal with risk, to build alliances, and to forge international consensus.
Industry must now take greater responsibility for substances that are being used in industrial processes and in consumer goods. There will be opportunities for those who anticipate change and are proactive in meeting the requirements of REACH. Overall, European industry will emerge stronger in the face of international competition.
Consumers and authorities will also benefit greatly from this new system as it will generate meaningful and structured information on chemicals. It is essential that this information is put to good use by way of more effective management of risks and action to deliver effective protection for our citizens.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am increasingly convinced that you have a fascinating, but a difficult, task lying ahead of you. I am sure that the Agency will be the focus which will permit Europeans to work together to achieve the important aims of REACH. At the same time, I count on the Agency to give the necessary assistance to those outside Europe who wish to join with us and ask for our advice and support. These are challenging tasks. But I am confident that with the support of the Commission, Member States and stakeholders, the Agency will succeed. Indeed, I look forward to coming back on a future occasion to toast to your success.
In the future, Helsinki will not just stand for the beautiful capital of Finland, but also for the heart of European chemical expertise.