Circular Economy Package to be ditched and re-tabled

Juncker and Timmermans presented the work programme in Strasbourg today. [Flickr]

The European Commission will ditch the Circular Economy Package, replace it with “more ambitious” legislation in 2015, and change pending air-pollution rules, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans told MEPs on Tuesday (16 December).

He also set a six month deadline for blocked legislation to extend fully paid maternity leave to 18 weeks to be passed. If it wasn’t, it would be ditched, he said. 

Timmermans was presenting the European Commission’s 2015 work programme at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The European Parliament had called for an extension of fully paid maternity leave to 20 weeks, which the Council of Ministers did not accept. It has been blocked since 2009.

“We are ready to make one last effort to unblock it but in six months we will take it off the table […] the onus is on the three EU institutions to create momentum around this proposal,” he said.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had tasked Timmermans to screen pending pieces of legislation as part of a drive for “better regulation”. 80 pending bills will be withdrawn.

Circular Economy

Among the bills facing the axe was the Circular Economy Package. One MEP shouted “shame” at Timmermans when he confirmed it would be scrapped. Timmermans reacted by saying the new proposal would come in 2015.

“We will do this very quickly because we want the Circular Economy […] we want to put something on the table that is more ambitious.”

“We want to make sure the Circular Economy is approached in a circular way and not just half a way,” he added.

The Circular Economy Package was intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill. It consists of six bills on waste, packaging, landfill, end of life vehicles, batteries and accumulators, and waste electronic equipment.

It was put together by the Barroso Commission, which said it would create €600 billion net savings, two million jobs and deliver 1% GDP growth. 

EU environment ministers have signalled their support for the Circular Economy Package and will discuss the decision at their meeting in Brussels tomorrow (17 December).

>> Read: Council of Ministers signals support for threatened Circular Economy package

Air Quality package

Anti-air pollution rules will be changed to make it more likely for the Council of Ministers and European Parliament to agree an identical text. Both must agree the same text before it can become law. 

The proposed rules, part of the Clean Air Package, fix emissions ceilings at national level, for nitrogen dioxide for example, obliging member states to hit air quality targets. But Timmermans said the gap between the Council and Parliament had got too big to bridge.

The changed bill would also take into account the EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets, agreed by EU leaders at their October summit in Brussels.

Rules governing emissions from medium sized combustion plants stood a good chance of gaining the necessary support to get on the lawbooks, he said.

“We are not compromising on the goals we want to attain, we are looking critically at the proposals so that we can have an agreement soon,” said Timmermans.

Both the Council and the European Parliament will be consulted before any proposals are withdrawn. The Parliament has decided to vote on a resolution on the work programme in January.

The maternity, air and recycling rules were on a hit list of laws sent by trade association BusinessEurope to the Commission. 

>>Read: Gender equality and environment laws on business lobby hit list

NGOs, other business and MEPS have called for the Circular Economy proposal to be saved. 

>> Read: Don’t axe gender and environment laws, NGOs tell Timmermans

Bernadette Ségol, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said, “There is not a single proposal to improve worker, consumer or environmental protection. This does not seem the best way to restore public confidence in Europe. It is a business agenda, with no sign of Juncker’s commitment to the social market economy: it is all market and no social.”

“Instead of promising to scrap the revision of the maternity leave directive if agreement is not found, the Commission should work to achieve agreement. ”

Sophie In't Veld, first vice president of the ALDE Group said, "ALDE strongly objects to the withdrawal of files just because member states have failed to take responsibility and the Council is paralysed. If that were the rule, many good laws, making the lives of EU citizens better, would not have existed today. There would not be binding rules for discipline in the eurozone, no European patents, no means to tackle plastics pollution and no common asylum rules."

BusinessEurope director General Markus Beyrer said, “Jean-Claude Juncker and Frans Timmermans have understood that being big on big things, and small on small things, requires blunt decisions and political courage. After the first headwinds, such political courage will ultimately pay off with a good return on investment, namely growth and jobs.”

The Green 10 group of leading environmental NGOs condemned in the strongest possible terms the Commission’s plans to withdraw and retable key proposals on waste management and to create confusion and uncertainty about the fate of the air package.

Ariel Brunner, Birdlife Europe’s head of EU policy and current chair of the Green 10, said, “This exercise undermines the Commission’s credibility. In trying to tame some of its critics, the Commission seems to be faithfully executing the ‘kill list’ developed by powerful industry lobby group, BusinessEurope, and then saying it will retable the air quality and waste proposals at a later stage. For a body that prides itself on delivering ‘better regulation’, this is spectacularly inefficient.

“These proposals offer better health, fewer sick-days, more jobs and a better environment for Europeans, along with a boost for forward-looking industries. Carrying through this badly thought-out PR exercise will do nothing to restore the EU’s popularity with citizens – it will achieve the opposite. Derailing and creating uncertainty about the efforts to protect the environment and defend outdated and polluting business models represents a colossal, strategic blunder.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, pledged to refocus the EU executive on the bigger political issues of the day and cut regulations seen as unnecessary or hampering business activity.

Juncker nominated his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a new role watching over the subsidiarity principle, whereby the EU should only intervene where it can act more effectively than national or local governments.

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