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20-11-2012

Blocking terrorists' access to bomb-making materials

Terrorists will find it harder to buy ingredients for home-made explosives, thanks to new rules restricting the general public's access to them. These rules, voted by Parliament today (Tuesday), will require a buyer's licence for high-risk chemicals sold in strong concentrations. Home-made explosives have been used in many terrorist attacks, such as the bombings in Norway last year.

Many terrorist attacks in recent years involved explosive devices made from chemicals, such as fertilizers or swimming pool cleaning tablets, which are currently widely available to the general public.

Some EU countries already restrict access to these chemicals, known as precursors. However, due to differing national rules, they may be restricted in one country, yet freely available in another. "We need to ensure that the differing national rules do not allow the sale of certain substances. After all, the common fight against terrorism needs rules common to all member states", said rapporteur Jan Mulder (ALDE, NL) during the debate.

EU-wide restrictions on sales to private users

The key aim of the rules is to limit private users' access to high-risk chemicals in quantities sufficient to make home-made explosives. Products containing high concentrations of chemicals listed in Annex I of the regulation will be sold only to buyers who can document a legitimate need to use them. MEPs ensured that these buyers will be able to obtain a licence to buy. Furthermore, for most legitimate uses, alternative products are already widely available on the market.

No licence needed for common cleaning agents or fertilisers

Buyers will not need a licence to obtain three chemicals commonly used as swimming pool cleaners or fertilisers - hydrogen peroxide, nitric acid and nitromethane. However, sellers will be required to register all sales of these products. EU countries such as Germany, which already register sales but do not require a licence, will be able to keep their own systems. The Commission will report at a later stage on whether these rules should be harmonised further.

"Suspicious" transactions

Some products, containing potential risk chemicals for which concentration thresholds cannot be set, will continue to be sold without any restriction. However, sales of these chemicals will be better controlled, as wholesalers and retailers will be required to report any "suspicious transactions", e.g. if a customer were to buy a suspiciously large quantity.

Next steps

The regulation now needs to be formally approved by the Council. Member states would then have 18 months to put it into effect. Restrictions on general public access to the chemicals listed in Annex I would take effect within three years of the adoption of the regulation.

The regulation was adopted with 595 votes in favour, 12 against and 14 abstentions.

Click here for video recording of the debate in Parliament on Monday 19 November