Vella urged EC to keep Circular Economy Package

The European Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella (pictured, right), urged Frans Timmermans, the First-Vice President of the European Commission (EC), to keep the original Circular Economy Package, it has been revealed.

The EC first announced that it was to bring in a raft of proposals to drive a ‘transition to the circular economy’ last year, and published a draft directive in July that included a 70 per cent recycling and reuse target by 2030, a packaging recycling target of 80 per cent, and bans on the landfilling of recyclable plastics, metals, glass, paper and cardboard, and biodegradable waste by 2025.

However, despite widespread criticism, Timmermans announced in December 2014 that the package was to be withdrawn, with promises it would make way for a more ‘ambitious’ package to “make sure that the circular economy is approached indeed in a circular way, and not just half the circle”.

It has now been revealed that Vella wrote to Timmermans in November 2014 to urge him not to withdraw, or even amend, the package (as he had reportedly wished to do), as ‘nothing… suggests that there are fundamental problems with [the] proposal that would merit the risk of withdrawing proposals before the co-legislators have had a proper chance to consider them’.

‘It's important also to send the signal that this Commission is serious about generating green growth’

The letter came to light earlier this week, after the European Environment Bureau (EEB) released it to news outlet EurActiv following its request to see paper relating to the withdrawal of the package.

It details Vella’s ‘preliminary assessment of the air quality and circular economy packages’ in view of the ‘preparation of the Commission Work Programme for 2015’, and states his belief that the latter package ‘is fundamentally aimed at improving Europe's competitiveness, both through reducing [its] dependence on imported resources through recycling, through the generation of jobs, not delocalisable to third countries, and through innovation and the development of new and exportable technologies’.

He noted that the package could:

  • create around 600,000 jobs in the EU, with ‘a further estimated two million jobs created through the impact of the legislation on the broader economy’;
  • bring businesses net savings of ‘up to €600 billion [£441.5 billion] or 8 per cent of their annual turnover’ through measures such as better eco-design, waste prevention and reuse;
  • reduce greenhouse gases and energy dependency; and
  • reduce bureaucratic ‘red tape’, since it would ‘reduce reporting obligations and makes special provisions for small and medium sized enterprises’.

As such, Vella concluded: ‘I am committed to looking at how we can increase our support to Member States to help them in implementing waste handling legislation and in freeing the private sector to make use of separately collected waste streams.

‘I believe that considering an amended proposal after first reading would be a wiser course of action than to withdraw either proposal at this stage. Nothing at this stage of the procedure suggests that there are fundamental problems with either proposal that would merit the risk of withdrawing proposals before the co-legislators have had a proper chance to consider them.

‘Finally, you will see from the proposals for the Commission Work Programme 2015 just how committed I am to easing regulatory burden and to reviewing how we can achieve our environmental objectives on the ground in a better way. But at the same time, it’s important also to send the signal that this Commission is serious about its intention to contribute to generating green growth. These proposals can in fact only complement the objectives of the €300 billion [£220.7 billion] package we intend to adopt before Christmas.

‘So I hope that on this basis we can agree to wait until after the Council and the Parliament have completed their first readings next year before taking any decisions on withdrawing or amending the proposals.’

Vella did also note, however, that at the ‘orientation debate’ at the European Council, a ‘majority of member states’ had welcomed the proposals for a waste target review, with ‘many member states’ wanting to reduce the targets. He added that it may therefore ‘become advisable to consider issuing amended proposals, especially in the case of the waste target review, after the first reading next year’.

Although Timmermans did not wait for a first reading to withdraw the package, he did state the EC was to amend the package to bring in a ‘more ambitious’ set of proposals.

According to the EC’s Director-General for Environment, Karl Falkenberg, a roadmap for the revised Circular Economy Package will be released ‘within the next few weeks’, with a consultation on the matter expected ‘before summer’.

EC at risk of legal action

In a new turn of events, the European Court of Justice has now limited the EC’s right to withdraw legislation, which could potentially leave the EC open to legal action over its attempt to withdraw the Circular Economy Package.

In April, the European Council took the EC to court in attempt to annul its decision to withdraw its proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the European Council that laid down general provisions for macro-financial assistance to third countries.

Although the court dismissed the action as unfounded, it outlined that the executive must meet three conditions before withdrawing a pending bill.

The three conditions are:

  • Did the commission bring its grounds for withdrawal sufficiently to the attention of the legislative institutions?
  • Were these grounds capable of justifying the withdrawal of the proposal and supported by cogent evidence or arguments?
  • When the commission withdraws a proposal because the institutions intend to amend it, did it have first due regard, in the spirit of sincere cooperation, to the concerns of the parliament and the council?

It is thought that the ruling could open the EC up to legal action over its withdrawal of the Circular Economy Package, with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) stating that it did not think there was sufficient reasoning behind the withdrawal of the package.

EBB Policy Director Pieter de Pous said: “This is a clear warning to the commission. It should trigger a very, very thorough rethink of how it approaches the withdrawal of legislation.”

If anyone is to challenge the EC over its decision however, it must do so by Thursday (7 May), as challenges can only be made two months after the College of Commissioners’ decision is published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Read Vella’s letter to Timmermans, or find out more about the European Court of Justice decision.

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