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10/12/2016

Timmermans overruled on plastic bags deal

Sustainable Dev.

Timmermans overruled on plastic bags deal

Frans Timmermans at his Parliament hearing. [European Parliament]

The Commission was overruled on how to implement the new targets for plastic bag reduction by the Parliament and Council, Frans Timmermans confirmed on Wednesday (19 October), even though the Commission’s First Vice-President had previously labeled the proposal ‘overregulation’.

During a press conference, Timmermans said that the Council and Parliament have reached an agreement on how to combat plastic bag waste, a polluting element in our environment, following yesterday’s triologue, even though the Commission stressed that there might be implementation issues related to the proposal later down the road.

The Deputy of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that the Parliament proposal on how to limit plastic bag consumption in the EU has not developed entirely in line with what the Commission now sees as better regulation.  

“But this is what the member states and Parliament want, and at the end of the day what we want to achieve is fewer plastic bags in our environment. The proposal, as it has been mandated, will indeed lead to to that,” Timmermans said. “If there later on will be problems with the implementation, then it’s something that the member states will have brought on to themselves,” Timmermans said.

Only a week ago, for the first time, Timmermans highlighted the debate on plastic bags during a press conference, saying that the Commission, given its right of initiative, should be very precise when analysing whether a proposal that was put on the table, having gone through the process, would still have the same effect as intended after going through the triologue.

“I’m not sure in this plastic bag debate whether this is still what we intended at the outset. This has become so incredibly complicated, it took me hours to even understand what was on the table,” Timmermans said.

In April, the Parliament voted in favour of curbing the use of thin plastic bags in the EU by by 50% by 2017, compared to 2010 figures, and at least by 80% by 2019.

The new law will apply to lightweight plastic bags that are thinner than 50 microns, which are deemed the most polluting form of bag. They are the type of bag most prone to littering and can easily break apart, causing damage to the environment and ocean wildlife, in particular. The Commission’s original 2013 legislation to reduce lightweight plastic bag consumption in the EU did not include an outright ban or mandatory pricing.

An estimated 8 billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe every year. In Denmark and Finland, the yearly average consumption of thin plastic bags is only four per person, compared to 466 in Poland, Portugal and Slovakia.

Timmermans also previously called for ‘better regulation’ in the EU. During his commissioner hearing in early October, Juncker’s deputy pledged that by early 2015 he would draw up a list of wasteful legislative proposals with a view to throwing them out of the legislative process and clearing the way for more pressing issues.

By the end of his first year, he would draw up more concrete proposals for better regulation by the Commission itself, he said.

“People do find the EU a problem and this is something we need to dissect and pull apart. That’s why we need the Parliament to do some work on its impact assessment and the Council too,” Timmermans said.

>> Read: Ex-Tory MP entangled in EU plastic bag lobbying row

Green MEP Margrete Auken, who was the Parliament’s rapporteur on the matter, said in a statement that she was thankful that the Commission decided not to obstruct the finalising of the legislation.

“Given plastic waste respects no borders, it is common sense to have a European approach to tackling the problem. Charging for plastic bags has proved to be overwhelmingly effective at reducing plastic bag use and this is obviously the way to go for member states,” Auken said.

Background

The European Parliament voted on 16 April in favour of curbing the use of thin plastic bags in the EU by at least 80% by 2019.

The draft laws call for EU countries to first reduce their consumption of the bags by 50% by 2017, compared to 2010 figures.

The new law will apply to lightweight plastic bags that are thinner than 50 microns, which are deemed the most polluting form of bag. They are the type of bag most prone to littering and can easily break apart, causing damage to the environment and ocean wildlife, in particular.

The stomachs of 94% of all birds in the North Sea area contain plastic, according to European Commission statistics.

Timeline

  • By 2017: Member states to have reduced plastic bag consumption by 50% compared to 2010 figures. 
  • By 2019: The use of plastic bags to have been reduced by 80% compared to 2010 levels. 

Further Reading