The European Commission’s proposed battery regulation was alternatively branded too ambitious or too restricting at a meeting of EU environment ministers Thursday (11 June), highlighting the gap between the 27 member states on the issue.
The EU executive proposed a binding regulation that seeks to make batteries more sustainable while meeting expected soaring demand, as e-mobility increasingly replaces fossil fuel in transport.
Under the proposed regulation, batteries must meet mandatory green and social requirements to enter the EU market. The proposal would also make the environmental effect of batteries more transparent, forcing producers to flag the carbon footprint of each battery from 2024.
If passed, collection and recycling rates of portable batteries will rise from 45% at present to 65% by 2025 and 70% by 2030. Large batteries, including those used in electric vehicles, must be collected and recycled in full.
The Commission has proposed that the new initiative immediately apply across all member states, rather than being tailored by each country through national legislation.
But Italy expressed concern over the Commission’s decision, arguing the importance of allowing EU countries to adapt legislation to their national context.
“We are worried about the fact that there may not be leeway for member states in an area in which national legislation in force has ensured effective implementation,” said Italy’s Vannia Gava, highlighting successful examples of traceability of waste schemes and Extended Producer Responsibility systems in Italy.
Germany similarly warned that “what works well in member states shouldn’t be undermined”.
Austria backed their neighbours’ concerns, stressing the importance of being able to keep structures that already operate successfully.
“Here, we have the question of flexibility for member states… I fear that the legal form of the regulation might restrict that flexibility,” Austria said.
France was perhaps the strongest in pushing for an ambitious response to the environmental toll of batteries. Paris previously expressed its desire to “to get results quickly”, calling for the implementation of the battery regulation to be brought forward by a year, to 2024.
“It’s key that this wide-reaching regulation, which is the symbol of a shift to a more sustainable, more European industry, is up to the task and can meet our circular economy ambitions,” French environment minister Barbara Pompili said.
Germany similarly encouraged the Commission to be “ambitious” in setting sustainability criteria.
However, some EU ministers felt the Commission’s proposal was already unrealistic in its demands. Poland cast doubt on the feasibility of a 70% collection target by 2030 while underlining the extra administrative burden such a regulation could have on small businesses.
The eastern European country also argued that batteries from small vehicles, such as e-scooters, should be excluded from the regulation goals.
“Their inclusion could distort the achievement of collection targets and we don’t have enough data to formulate a separate target for this subcategory only,” said the Polish representative.
Bulgaria also expressed concerns about “the proposed, unrealistic timeline for the sustainability requirements for product safety and for the carbon footprint”.
“We need rational and achievable levels of ambition. For portable batteries, the goal for us is 65% in the year 2028.”
Bulgaria was joined by several smaller member states in taking aim at the implementation timeline proposed by the Commission.
“We believe that a substantially longer period is needed to adjust to these requirements,” said Richard Brabec, the Czech environment minister.
The battery regulation debate will continue under the Slovenian presidency of the Council, which is set to take over from Portugal on 1 July.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]