The COVID-19 health crisis has highlighted the need to change our policies in order to move to a more sustainable future and meet the new challenges and expectations of tomorrow. We need to adapt to these dramatic events, which requires us to develop the vision to see new opportunities and demonstrate the courage to act upon them.
We need to accelerate the green and digital transition, advancing the circular economy and sustainable production and consumption to make Europe’s industrial base more resilient, and to strengthen European strategic autonomy. But to do so, we must strengthen and adapt our Single Market. More than ever, the EU needs to adopt an Action Plan on the Circular Economy. The European Parliament made such a call in the Green Deal resolution adopted in January.
Through a sustainable Single Market, the EU will position itself as a global leader in innovation and sustainable growth. We need a new strategy, based on the principles of sustainability, consumer protection and a competitive social market economy. A well-functioning single market without disproportionate and unjustified barriers is the precondition for Europe’s transition to a sustainable and circular economy. It will create advantages for European businesses, trigger innovation and strengthen competitiveness and consumer protection.
“Through these measures, in addition to providing European citizens with better-protected consumer rights, we are ensuring a better future”
It will differentiate between categories of products and take into account market and technological developments. It will mobilise R&D funding into innovative and sustainable products, set favourable framework conditions and provide the balanced regulatory mix to encourage businesses and consumers to embrace the sustainability agenda. Each area will be targeted, with none left behind.
Several Member States have started to legislate on this subject. France introduced its anti-waste and circular economy law in 2018. Sustainable products should become the norm in the EU. We need to establish sustainability principles and improve durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability of products.
We have to tackle the practice of planned obsolescence. Manufacturers should be encouraged to consider the durability and reparability of products at the design stage. We need to explore the idea of digital product passports that can help companies and consumers track a product’s environmental impact, and we need to agree on how to align the duration of legal guarantees with the estimated product lifespan, while assessing the effect on prices, the expected lifespan of products, commercial guarantee systems and independent repair services.
We need to boost the circular economy and sustainable business models, including through R&D investments. Through these measures, in addition to providing European citizens with better-protected consumer rights, we are ensuring a better future. After all, we are all citizens and consumers - we need to protect ourselves and preserve our future. Consumers need reliable information about products at the point of sale, including on their estimated lifespan and other environmental performance aspects.
We need stricter methodologies and rules to substantiate environmental claims, including an environmental performance index for products, linked to labelling and taking into account their reparability and durability. The responsibility of online platforms in providing consumers with reliable information on the sustainability of products should be addressed. Effective and enhanced market surveillance, including for third country products, is crucial for ensuring compliance of products with safety and environmental criteria.
“Through a sustainable Single Market, the EU will position itself as a global leader in innovation and sustainable growth”
Consumers need to have effective and easily enforceable remedies. How many times have we regretted that we must throw away products only because a single spare part cannot be replaced? The ‘right to repair’ has to be embedded in EU consumer and product policies. Providing information on repair and maintenance to all actors in the repair industry and consumers is important, as well as assessing and addressing unfair practices and legal obstacles to repair, resale, reuse and donation.
This is a question of justice and to redress our rights and freedom of choice as citizens. But the effort must be widespread and comprehensive. Also, public authorities must actively contribute. We need uptake in green and innovation public procurement, introducing sustainability criteria and targets into public tenders.
We need to ensure effective reciprocity in public procurement with third countries, as well as adequate access to public procurement for SMEs, including social economy enterprises. In order to tackle ‘greenwashing’, we could consider an instrument for screening the sustainability of public tenders to ensure their compatibility with the EU’s climate commitments. We have the vision. We know what we have to do. Now, we need the political will to act.
There are risks and costs associated with it, but they are far less than the consequences of inaction. “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future”, said President John F. Kennedy. So, let us not waste the opportunity to act together and change. The stakes are high and our future matters.