Expectations too high

If an ambitious announcement is made, it is bound to raise high expectations. Now the EU Commission will have to live with the fact that it was unable to fulfil these expectations with its new circular economy package. Nevertheless, the package is not a total failure, quite the contrary.

Is the new package really more ambitious than its predecessor? Frans Timmermans had the foresight never to explain what ‘more ambitious’ really meant. Looking at the recycling targets alone, the conclusion is obvious: No, the new package is not more ambitious, but that conclusion alone definitely does not suffice. The high recycling targets contained in the old package were one of the main criticisms. It is understandable that the Commission wanted to defuse this criticism. In addition, the sense of high recycling targets is questionable if the majority of member states is unable to realistically achieve them. It is also understandable to make some concessions to member states that are lagging behind, especially in waste management. Eventually, the package will have to be adopted by all member states. Seen in this context, the reduction of landfill to 10 per cent also makes sense. It is not the complete ban many had wished for, but at the moment it is a realistic step.

Looking at the package in its entirety, the claim to be more ambitious is much more justified. While the package of the Baroso Commission still predominantly focused on waste management, the new package now covers the entire circular economy, including producers and consumers. However, much remains vague and too often the Commission has confined itself to encouraging member states to be more proactive. In the past, we have seen that when it comes to implementing European standards at national level, strange things can happen. If there are no specific requirements, the results are likely to remain modest. In this respect, one could have hoped for a little more determination on the part of the Commission.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the package going forward. In this process, debates about whether recycling targets are five per cent higher or lower should be subordinate to the overall concept of a circular economy. Not everyone may like the package – and there are some legitimate reasons for criticism. Nevertheless, it is definitely a step in the right direction – and that is something that cannot often be said about decisions taken in Brussels.


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