Echa has responded to the Brexit crisis by appointing Andreas Herdina, head of its communications and outreach directorate, as its “contact point” for British companies and for its own British staff.
His task will be to ensure that Echa takes a “single consolidated position” towards British companies and staff and that he acts as a reference point on Brexit matters.
Companies in the UK, the rest of the EU and further afield have been thrown into an era of great uncertainty about their legal obligations, under EU chemicals law, by last Thursday’s referendum, which saw the UK vote by the narrow margin of 52% to 48% to leave the EU.
In a statement, Echa says that, until the withdrawal negotiations (that is, the UK invokes Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union), the UK remains a member of the EU, with all the rights and obligations that go with it.
The status of UK companies with regard to REACH remains, for the time being, unchanged, it adds. The withdrawal negotiations will determine the extent to which REACH and other EU chemicals legislation will apply in the UK.
“At this moment, we cannot draw any conclusions, but, in any case, those British companies that will continue to sell their chemicals and products to the EU will need to comply with EU requirements.”
A key question for Echa, other EU agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority, and the European Commission, is whether their British staff will have to be replaced and, if so, at what point in the legal proceedings. The same also applies to British MEPs and Council of Ministers officials.
UK government officials and national experts have been involved, working with Echa, in shaping the implementation of REACH and other chemicals legislation. This includes membership of the agency’s Management Board, committees and expert groups. In addition, around five per cent of Echa’s own staff – roughly 25 people – are British nationals. These include Echa’s senior scientific adviser, who reports directly to the agency’s executive director and deputy executive director.
When the UK leaves the EU, this direct cooperation will change, says Echa, but it is too early to speculate how. It is also too soon to say how its British staff will be affected. Echa is participating in the network of EU agencies and will “follow a common approach when available”.
Echa makes the point that countries outside the EU but members of the European Economic Area (EEA) – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - participate in the work of the agency, and that third countries can be invited to do so, subject to the agreement of Echa’s Management Board. Norway has also been involved in the preparation of Annex XV dossiers. Echa has some full time staff members from some of these countries.
All EEA countries have full access to the single European market and also allow the free movement of people. But press reports say that whether the UK can negotiate continued access to the former, and square it with promises by some leading Leave politicians to restrict the latter, looks highly doubtful.