A draft law to restrict the general public's access to chemicals that can be used to make home-made explosives was agreed by Parliament and Council representatives on Monday and endorsed by EP political groups on Wednesday. As a general rule, consumers would have to obtain a licence to buy these products, although some exemptions would be possible. Home-made explosives have been used in many terrorist attacks, such as the bombings in Norway last year.
Most terrorist attacks in recent years have used explosive devices, many of which were home made from chemicals, such as fertilizers or swimming pool cleaning tablets, that are currently widely available to the general public.
Some EU Member States already restrict the availability of such chemical precursors. However, due to differing national rules, they may be restricted or controlled in one country, yet freely available in another. The draft EU regulation would ensure that Member States have the same degree of control over access to certain chemicals throughout the EU.
"With this new regulation, the general public's access to explosives precursors will be greatly reduced. This is a huge step forward in the fight against terrorism and organised crime", said rapporteur Jan Mulder (ALDE, NL) following the agreement.
EU-wide restrictions on sales to private users
The key aim of the agreed rules is to restrict the access of the general public (i.e. private users), to high-risk chemicals in concentrations that make them easy to use to make home-made explosives.
Sales of products containing chemicals listed in Annex I of the regulation would be banned if these chemicals exceed a certain concentration. Most consumers would be able to use alternative products that are already widely available. Chemicals in higher concentrations could be sold only to consumers who can document a legitimate need to use them, and MEPs ensured that these consumers would be able to obtain a licence to buy them.
No licence needed for common cleaning agents or fertilisers
Consumers would not need a licence to buy, in certain concentrations, three chemicals commonly used as swimming pool cleaning argents or fertilisers - hydrogen peroxide, nitric acid and nitromethane. However, sellers would be required to register all sales of them.
EU countries such as Germany, which already register sales but do not require consumers to have a licence to purchase high-risk chemicals, would be able to keep their own systems. In three years the Commission would report on whether these rules should be strengthened or harmonised further.
Some products containing chemicals of concern for which concentration thresholds cannot be set (Annex II of the regulation), would continue to be sold without any restrictions to consumers, but their sales would be better controlled as wholesalers and retailers would be obliged to report any "suspicious transactions". A suspicious transaction would be defined as "any purchase where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the substance is intended for the production of home-made explosives", e.g. if a customer were to buy a suspiciously large quantity for normal home use.
The text negotiated with the Council's Danish Presidency is to be endorsed by all EU countries in the first week of July. The Civil Liberties Committee and Parliament as a whole should vote on the agreed text in the autumn.
Once the regulation is approved by Parliament and the Council, Member States would have 18 months in which to put it into effect. Restrictions on general public access to the chemicals listed in Annex I would take effect within three 3 years of the adoption of the regulation.