The European Union (EU) is made up of 27 Member States (countries) who have decided to standardize many aspects of their regulatory and other systems. This standardization is particularly strong for the regulations that govern traded goods, such as chemicals.
The EU produces around 33% of the world's chemicals (by sales), and has the largest chemical industry in the world. The EU has a long history of chemicals policy, going back to the late 1960s, and most aspects of chemicals regulation are defined at the EU level, rather than within individual countries.
Since the 1960s the EU has had regulations that govern classification and labeling of chemical substances and preparations made and sold in the EU as well as provisions for review and management of new and existing chemicals. After a review in the 1990s it was found that existing policy inhibited the development of new chemicals because existing chemicals (placed on a register in 1981) did not need testing whereas new chemical entities required testing. The process for evaluating chemical hazards and risk control measures was extremely slow and placed high burdens on governments rather than the chemicals industry. These earlier pieces of legislation were integrated in 2007 with the entry into force of the European Union's comprehensive chemicals regulation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals) which overhauled chemicals regulation in Europe into a single system. The REACH legislation also created the new European Chemicals Agency to coordinate REACH implementation.
Lessons from the implementation of these policies can serve as useful information for chemicals policy development elsewhere. For information on earlier European Union chemicals regulations as well as reports and documents leading up to the passage of REACH see the archives section.