Circular economy and sustainability among the priorities in Juncker’s 2018 work plan

A new European Commission work plan has received a cautious welcome from green groups.

In the autumn the European Commission publishes a programme of all the work it plans to do the following year. This year’s effort, under the title: ‘An agenda for a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe’ is a 15-page summary that covers all the major laws set to be proposed, and sets the scene for the direction the Commission hopes to steer the EU in during 2018.

The timing of the programme’s release, just days after a major European Council summit and with issues like Brexit, glysophate and sexual harassment filling the news, has left it largely neglected by the general Brussels press. Yet the document provides clues about both the Commission’s intentions and its priorities in the year to come.

Stephane Arditi, EEB’s Policy Manager on Circular Economy, Products and Waste, said:

“Circular economy and a sustainable future are among the top three priorities, making it clear sustainability and circularity – but also the environment more generally – is at the core of the economic agenda of EU.”

Arditi particularly welcomed the Commission’s intention to bring forward new proposals on the circular economy, including new efforts to monitor progress in developing an economy where resources are reused or recycled and not thrown away. The programme describes the circular economy as able to “bring huge benefits to our economy, our competitiveness and our environment.”

The Commission’s plan is also explicit about the need to “focus on how we produce and use plastics” and sets the clear goal of “working towards all plastic packaging being recyclable by 2030”.

Another part of the work programme that was embraced by environmentalists was a new commitment to take action against Member States that are failing to offer their citizens the protections offered by European laws. The document pointedly states: “Member States must live up to their responsibility to respect and enforce the rules they themselves have jointly put in place”.

Margherita Tolotto, EEB Policy Officer for Air Pollution and Noise, welcomed this commitment:

“The importance of ensuring existing laws are respected cannot be underestimated when it comes to air pollution. EU rules on air quality are currently being breached in 130 cities in 23 Member States all over Europe. Legal action has forced some governments to take action, but renewed impetus to hold member states to their clean air commitments is clearly needed.”

The work programme explicitly mentions the need to enforce environmental laws in particular and mentions the need to exchange best practice between countries in this area.

Christian Schaible, EEB Policy Manager for Industrial Production, and co-author of the EEB’s upcoming report ‘Burning: The Evidence’, explained the importance and potential of such exchanges:

“Our latest research reveals how some European countries are doing a much better job than others when applying exactly the same rules. To give a concrete example, this means someone in Ireland has a much better chance than someone in Poland of finding out about what big industrial facilities are up to in their area. And that’s just not fair.”

The document also refers to the EU’s efforts on climate change and described renewed effort in this area as “a priority”.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was selected as a result of the the Spitzenkandidaten system, which for the first time linked the results of the European election to the EU’s top job.  Voters will have the chance to judge the Commission’s achievements at the ballot box in 2019.