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European Council accused of ‘rolling backwards’ on circular economy ahead of final 2017 trilogue

The European Council has been accused of “rolling backwards” on its commitments towards the EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP) ahead of the final trilogue negotiations of 2017 set to take place on Sunday (17 December).

German MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz, the European Parliament's shadow rapporteur on the issue, made the comments ahead of Sunday’s negotiations that will see the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament attempt to thrash out a final package ahead of their soft deadline of the end of 2017.

The CEP purports to set ambitious targets for recycling and reuse and limiting waste to landfill, while encouraging increased resource efficiency, to be achieved by 2030, paving the way for a circular economy in Europe.

European Council accused of ‘rolling backwards’ on circular economy ahead of final 2017 trilogue
Karl-Heinz Florenz
All three major European institutions confirmed their mandates in May, meaning that three-way negotiations to determine the final package of legislative amendments could begin. All three committed in 2016 to give priority to the negotiations and to have them completed, if possible, by the end of 2017. However, it remains to be seen whether an agreement can be reached this weekend.

The primary sticking point in the negotiations is the final recycling and reuse target to be included in the CEP, with the European Commission proposing a 65 per cent target, a downgrade on the original 70 per cent target included in the original CEP proposals withdrawn in 2014 following the beginning of the Juncker Commission, although the Commission’s proposals now include a binding 10 per cent limit on waste to landfill.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament backs the original 70 per cent recycling target following agreement on its stance in March, while the European Council agreed its negotiating mandate in May, backing a 60 per cent recycling and reuse target as well as reviews on individual targets for textile waste and clarifications on the definitions of recycling and municipal waste, with the provision of a common methodology to report the reuse of products by 2019.

And it is the Council, comprised of representatives from the executive governments of each of the EU member states, that has drawn the ire of Florenz, who has been critical of what he feels amounts to backtracking from the Council ahead of the final stage of the negotiations.

The German MEP said: “Ministers from all member states were loud in their commitments to a circular economy, in which resources are kept in use as long as possible, then transformed and used again once they become waste. But they seem to have gone awkwardly silent now that it comes to concrete legislation that could deliver those benefits. Not only silent, but rolling backwards.”

Florenz has accused the Council of a lack of ambition by proposing targets for packaging waste that were achieved three years ago, while also singling out the German government “for not taking the lead it could and should”.

Raising the prospect of the loss of “30,000 potential jobs and an economic potential worth billions”, Florenz added: “The member states in Council need to wake up and take action to make sure these resources are used to boost our economies, not buried in landfills.”

This is not the first time the Council has been accused of dragging its heels, with a group of non-governmental organisations, led by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe, admonishing ‘laggard’ Member States for failing to publically back CEP proposals and ‘sabotaging the transition to a circular economy’.

Trilogues on the Circular Economy Package will continue this weekend
Member states have also been urged to do more by European businesses to implement a circular economy through the deployment of existing economic measures and the development of demand-side mechanisms and secondary markets to take on the additional material expected to be sent for recycling.

UK expects package to apply after Brexit

And what of the UK’s position? With the UK’s impending departure from the EU notionally a little over a year away and negotiations on the settlement of liabilities owed by the UK to the EU remaining fractious and crawling forward, many have questioned whether the targets contained in the CEP will be transposed into UK law following the final departure.

Despite these concerns, in a meeting between officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and industry businesses and trade bodies in January of this year, it was stated that the UK would continue to be involved in negotiations surrounding the package and that it would still be expected to apply following Brexit.

However, Resources Minister Therese Coffey dampened expectations while speaking at the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) Conference on 11 October, stating that what she called overly ambitious targets could lead to ‘perverse outcomes’ and ungreen practices being carried out in order to reach the targets. 

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