Animal-rights campaigners have been angered by the move, accusing Brussels of putting commerce before the prevention of suffering caused by experiments, which are generally known as vivisection, on a range of animals.
David Bowles, RSPCA European officer, said: "We're obviously disappointed that they are not going ahead with the ban. This shows that trade has won a battle over the raising of animal welfare standards."
Matthew Davis, head of campaigns for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: "This would be a backward step and very disappointing. It flies in the face of public opinion right across Europe and would be against the wishes of the European Parliament. It would be an undemocratic decision."
A European directive was passed in 1993, telling member states to remove animal-tested cosmetics from shops by 1998, and the commission was supposed to confirm the ban by the end of last year. But its officials have been silent.
Now the Independent on Sunday has learnt that Consumer Policy Commissioner Emma Bonino has ruled that the directive has to be re-written. Ms Bonino has told her officials to write a new proposal to ban only animal-tested cosmetics manufactured within the European Union.
This means that similar cosmetics imported from outside the EU would continue to be sold across Europe.
A working party of member states will be told tomorrow of Ms Bonino's change of heart. It follows a warning from her lawyers that a ban could be challenged by the World Trade Organisation, the guardian of the GATT treaty on international commerce. The treaty prevents governments from banning products for the way they are made if such products cause no risk to human health or to the environment in the countries where they are sold.
Industry sources say that a "significant proportion" of cosmetics sold in the EU are imported from other parts of the world, especially from Japan and the United States. Many of the big cosmetic companies operate factories both inside and outside Europe.
Brussels has already had problems implementing another proposed ban - on furs from animals caught in leg-hole traps in Canada, Russia and the United States - for the same reason.
Meanwhile, a ban on EU-made cosmetics would not come into effect until 2000 at the earliest, and might be postponed still further if the commission rules that there are not enough internationally approved alternative non- animal tests in existence at that time.
A senior commission official, Mercedes De Sola Domingo, who is head of the products unit of DG24, the commission's consumer directorate, said: "We cannot ban products on the market, coming from outside the EU, so it is necessary to modify the basic directive."
Marion Kelly, director general of the UK Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, said: "We were happy with the proposal that testing on finished products, rather than on the ingredients of cosmetics, should be banned by 1998. The UK industry does not test on finished products."
If there is no strong opposition from tomorrow's meeting of member states, the new proposal will be passed to the commission's Committee on Adaptation for Technical Progress, and from there to a full meeting of all commissioners for approval.
After that, the final decision on the new proposal will be in the hands of EU member states sitting on the European Council of Ministers.Reuse content