Is EU Commission review going to kill off circular economy proposals?


New European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) has ordered new Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to review proposals to develop a circular economy.

In a remodelling of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker has initiated a system where seven vice presidents will be responsible for co-ordinating work across the Commission in key policy areas and each of these will lead a new project team.


In his Political Guidelines for the next European Commission document Jean-Claude Juncker sets out the 10 policy areas that will be the Commission’s focus, and there isn’t a single mention of either the circular economy or resource efficiency. Indeed, the section on sustainability only looks at this from the point of view of developing energy security from renewable energy sources to counter the threat of instability from fossil fuel sources from unstable nations.

New Environment and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Karmenu Vella will be required to work on projects for the Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Vice-President for Energy Union Alenka Bratušek.

But critically, in his letter to Karmenu Vella outlining the focus for the new Environment and Maritime Affairs Commissioner, the European Commission President orders a review of Towards a Circular Economy: a zero waste programme for Europe introduced by former Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik in July.

This proposed targets for 80 per cent of packaging to be recycled, 70 per cent of municipal waste to be recycled and a ban on landfill for recyclable materials by 2030.

In the letter, Jean-Claude Juncker wrote that he would like Commissioner Vella to focus on five priorities including: “Assessing the state of play of the circular economy package in light of the first reactions of the European Parliament and Council to see whether and how it is consistent with our jobs and growth agenda and our broader environmental objectives.”

This review and the merging of the Environment Commissioner role with that of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and the combining of the Energy and Climate Change Commissioner roles has been viewed negatively by industry experts.

Resource Association chief executive Ray Georgeson said: “We welcome the new Commissioner Vella to his post and urge him to signal clearly and quickly his intentions towards his predecessors’ circular economy package.  Any new incumbent must be given time to master their portfolio, but clearly there is an opportunity here to minimise uncertainty and send a clear and hopefully positive message about the development of the circular economy.”

 “The mood music about the new Commission today from the environment sector, however, has not been good, and the merging of Energy and Climate Change and what looks like a weakening of DG Environment by adding other responsibilities may be sending the wrong message, especially seen in the light of other changes in the Commission that point towards a more deregulatory approach. 

“It will be a real pity if the circular economy package becomes an early casualty  – it is clear to so many of us that there are huge and necessary environmental and economic benefits to be realised from a more circular economy and that this will only come with intelligent intervention, regulation and market signalling by Member States, led by the EU.

“As Commission President Juncker has asked for the circular economy package to be reviewed early, we sincerely hope that new Commissioner Vella can react quickly and pick up the baton handed to him by Commissioner Potočnik with vigour.”

European Environmental Bureau secretary general Jeremy Bates reacted with “deep concern” to the proposed measures.

He added: “Instead of putting sustainability central to his new team, Juncker has decided to relegate it to the margins by scrapping the dedicated posts of a climate and an environment commissioner and appointing a deregulation first vice-president to put a competitiveness filter on all initiatives.”

Jeremy Bates warned that the instruction for a review on the circular economy packages in light of the growth and jobs agenda was “disturbing”.

He added: “Under a banner of reform, a deeply regressive deregulatory agenda has been put forward that reads like a wish-list of private sector groups hostile to the environment.”