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Europe’s Science Base Under Threat

Policy: Chemical regulations, science funding cuts viewed as threat to chemistry R&D

by Alex Scott
June 15, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 24

Chemistry-related businesses in Europe say they are being hit by innovation-quashing regulation on the one hand and research funding cuts on the other.


Survey indicates that REACH is hampering innovation at small companies, but benefits emerge too

35% say innovation is adversely affected

10% say innovation is enhanced

75% say competitiveness is weakened

<5% have identified new markets

>50% have improved risk management

>60% have increased knowledge of chemicals

NOTE: Survey of 1,500 small to medium-sized chemical firms and users in the European Union.

A recent European Commission survey of 1,500 small to medium-sized chemical companies shows that Europe’s chemicals regulation, known as the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), is hampering innovation. Of the firms surveyed, 35% stated that REACH has negatively affected their ability to innovate. Just 10% of companies said the law has had a positive impact on innovation.

REACH was designed to control hazardous chemicals and promote the development of safer substances. Its role in enhancing innovation “has not been as convincing as we would like to have seen,” agrees Antti Peltomäki, the deputy director-general of the commission’s industry unit. He concludes that “regulation may be undermining the chemicals sector in Europe.”

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), which represents European environmental organizations, rejects Peltomäki’s assertion. “It is, to say the least, disturbing to hear the commission imply that REACH may be undermining innovation and the chemicals sector in Europe without any proof beyond a survey sent to companies,” states Jeremy Wates, EEB’s secretary general, in a letter to the commission.

“On the contrary, evidence suggests that REACH is stimulating innovation,” Wates states. “Substances of very high concern are no longer used in the European Union market and are likely to have been substituted with alternatives.”

“Overall, REACH is working to achieve all its aims,” says Wates, who describes Peltomäki’s comments as “ill-founded.”

The survey, which was conducted in February and March, focuses on the period 2010 to 2013. A full survey report is due to be published in the fall.

A related concern of several chemistry-related organizations is the European Commission’s decision to cut $2.5 billion from the $90 billion budget for its flagship science research program, Horizon 2020. Projects include research into pharmaceuticals, biomaterials, and clean energy. The commission will redirect the funds to public-private projects encouraging private investment.

The planned cuts could cost 1,000 research projects, 7,000 jobs, and “countless other lost commercialization opportunities,” claims David Cole-Hamilton, president of the European Association for Chemical & Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS), an organization that brings together European chemical societies (see page 34).

The cuts are “misguided,” leading European pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry associations argue in a joint statement. They warn that the cuts “will have a negative impact on patient health outcomes, the EU economy, and the overall sustainability of health care systems.”

Research institutes across Europe are also smarting at the budget cuts. The European University Association says it is “particularly concerned by the signal that this development sends to public authorities in Europe with regard to the importance of funding university research.”



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