While the European Commission is not revealing much about its vision on how to achieve a “circular” economy, the European Parliament has now made its mind up. The own-initiative report from rapporteur Sirpa Pietikäinen, adopted yesterday in plenary with 394 votes in favour, 197 votes against and 82 abstentions, aims to inspire the Commissions’ discussions on the new Circular Economy package, which is expected before the end of the year. Whether the EP’s recommendations will put further pressure on the Commission to come up with an ambitious proposal remains to be seen but one thing is certain, the Parliament has its “wish list” ready.
Last June, the adoption of Mrs. Pietikainen’s report by 56 votes in favour reflected a large political consensus in the Environment committee. However, in the period leading up to the plenary vote, the tabling of new amendments and the request for split votes for various provisions showed that diverging views may challenge this consensus. And it did indeed. Interestingly, while the content of the report remains mostly the same, a few key changes shed a new light on the Parliament’s approach of the dossier. In an attempt to offer more flexibility and address the risk of over-regulation, the Plenary has noticeably softened the Parliament’s language and readjust some expectations downwards.
Parliament softens overall resource efficiency target and confirms waste targets
It is on targets that the plenary vote had most striking and symbolic impact. While the Environment committee decided to call for a binding target to increase resource efficiency by 30% by 2030 compared with 2014 levels; the target is no longer legally binding. On waste however, expectations are unchanged. The Commission should foresee a waste reduction target for municipal, commercial and industrial waste for 2015 and increase recycling and reuse target to at least 70% of municipal solid waste and 80% recycling of packaging waste by 2030. The Parliament wants such targets to be the same in all Member States while the Commission has already indicated that it will not be excluding differentiation to a certain extent. The binding food waste target (30% by 2025) and marine litter target (50% by 2015 compared with 2014 levels) also remain on the Parliament’s wish list.
Indicators are still on the menu as well. A lead indicator and a dashboard of sub-indicators on resource efficiency should measure resource consumption, including imports and exports, at EU, Member State and industry level. Interestingly, the Parliament points out the need to adopt a lifecycle approach and to apply a footprint methodology. In other words, products and services should be considered broadly and indicators should reflect at least land, water and material use as well as carbon emissions. According to verbal statements from Commission officials, the Commission is indeed planning to measure circular economy progress by using a dashboard of indicators.
Access to information reduced to consumers’ awareness
Access to information is another area where yesterday’s vote had a significant impact. Until then, the Environment committee had come to the conclusion that information about products should be enhanced: consumers as well as businesses should have access to information about the resources a product contains and on its expected lifetime. Now the Parliament simply and vaguely “notes that it is crucial to raise consumers’ awareness and increase their proactive role.”
Product design remains high on Parliament’s agenda
Product design is another key aspect for the European Parliament. Products should be durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable. The Eco-design Directive is considered as the best instrument to meet such ambitions. On this matter the Plenary aligned with the Environment committee: the directive should be reviewed by the end of 2016 in order to expand its scope, introduce mandatory product passports and implement self-monitoring and third-party auditing.
The reference to Green public procurement disappears
During the conference organised by the European Commission on June 25, a significant number of speakers and participants mentioned the use of green public procurement as a tool to boost the circular economy. At that time, these views were reflected in the Environment committee report which called on the Commission to propose compulsory green public procurement procedures. The reference to compulsory green public procurement has been watered-down as it now just refers to public procurement without the “compulsory green” component.
The Circular Economy will keep EU institutions and stakeholders busy in the months to come. While the Parliament has now clarified its expectations, the European Commission must make important decisions. When withdrawing the previous Circular Economy package, they promised “a more ambitious” package. The question is whether the new proposal will meet this high level of ambition or whether the Commission is, rather optimistically, shooting for the stars. We will be able to judge in a few months when the Commission is expected to publish the new package. Until then, stakeholders have the opportunity to express their views by contributing to the Commission’s public consultation which is open until 20 August.
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