ISSN 2330-717X

Home-Made Explosives: Curb High-Risk Chemical Sales, Says EU Committee

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A draft law to restrict the general public’s access to chemicals that can be used to make home-made explosives was backed by the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday.

MEPs amended the draft to clarify licence-to-buy requirements for certain chemicals that can be found, for instance, in fertilizers or pool cleaners and the definition of a “suspicious transaction”. Other amendments seek to safeguard personal data. Home-made explosives were used in the London bombings in 2005.

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 agents that are currently widely available to the general public.

Some EU Member States have already taken legislative or non-legislative measures to restrict the availability of chemical precursors to explosives. 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 the same level of control over access to certain chemicals throughout the EU.

“When we implement this regulation, it will reduce the possibility of terrorist and criminal attacks in Europe with chemical substances. It is a very welcomed proposal”, said rapporteur Jan Mulder (ALDE, NL) in the committee debate.

EU-wide restriction on sales to private users

The key aim of the proposed 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 certain chemicals, which are listed in Annex I of the draft regulation, will be banned if these chemicals exceed a certain concentration. Most consumers will be able to use alternative products which are already widely available.

Sales of chemicals in higher concentrations would be permitted only to consumers who can document a legitimate need to use the chemical. These consumers will be able to obtain a licence to continue purchasing those products.

“Suspicious” transactions

Some products, containing chemicals of concern for which concentration thresholds cannot be set (Annex II of the regulation), will continue to be sold without any restrictions to consumers, but their sales will be better controlled, for example through a mechanism for reporting “suspicious transactions”.

The proposed rules would oblige wholesalers and retailers to report such transactions to a single national contact point, which should be designated within a law enforcement authority, MEPs add.

MEPs stipulate that a “suspicious transaction” means “any transaction (…) where there is information, concern or reasonable grounds for suspecting that the substance or mixture is intended for the production of home-made explosives, or for any other illicit purposes, such as the transfer of those substances to third parties, notably because of its unusual quantity, concentration, combination and frequency and any particularly extraordinary circumstance relating to the transaction”.

Licences and data protection

MEPs also inserted amendments to clarify licence-to-buy requirements and safeguard data, making it mandatory for the Commission to lay down EU guidelines on these issues.

“The licensing authority shall ensure that fundamental rights of the individuals that request a licence, namely the right not be discriminated on the basis of race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or age, are respected at all times”, say MEPs in a clause added to the text of the regulation.

The processing of personal data revealing racial or ethic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership, as well as the processing of data concerning health or sex life, is prohibited, they add.

This Civil Liberties Committee vote gives Parliament’s rapporteur a mandate to start negotiations with Council. The aim is to reach an agreement before the end of 2011. The regulation would enter into force 18 months after its adoption by Parliament and Council.

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