The circular economy package is one of the most important tools for resource efficiency and a sustainable European economy.
Its benefits range from reducing our environmental and climate impact through decreasing the resource dependency of the continent to creating jobs and helping the EU retain its competitiveness in the 21st century.
However, the texts adopted on paper are not yet yielding results - much effort is still needed to turn the dream into reality.
One of the key criteria for success is the proper transposition of the circular economy package into member state law. Experiences to date show that EU countries tend to be slow in adopting complex and difficult regulations.
For example, transposition of the previous energy efficiency and waste directives took so long that the Commission had to launch infringement procedures against several member states. In some cases, the texts themselves were adopted into national law, but the outcomes failed to reflect the spirit of the directive.
Another important issue is implementation. EU environmental legislation is intended to make people’s lives better, but rules only work if they are actually applied.
Member states very often look for loopholes, so if the European regulation contains some flexibility, national governments try to take advantage of it. For example, the directives allow incineration, but this doesn’t mean governments should stop trying to find better solutions for waste management.
The regulation clearly states that waste prevention and recycling are higher up on the waste management hierarchy and are greatly preferable to incineration. Yet some member states take advantage of the directives’ flexibility by investing in incineration as an alternative to landfilling. This is being done in place of reducing waste quantity, increasing recycling rates and prolonging the lifecycle of products, in line with the aims of the package.
Proper implementation needs strong and competent national authorities as well as strict follow-up by the Commission, especially regarding deadline and target compliance.
On environmental policy, more than 300 infringement cases are currently ongoing, while 64 await a decision from the European Court of Justice. This clearly indicates the critical shortcomings of the transposition and implementation of the EU’s environmental regulation by member states.
This long list of infringements could be cut by an effective early warning system that rings the alarm where a member state does not follow the trajectory of a regulatory target. Such a system could point to problems before a member state fails to implement a regulation and risks incurring sanctions.
The environmental implementation review could serve as a useful tool for following up the implementation of the circular economy package.
However, we need a clear and effective mechanism to send feedback to and put timely pressure on member states showing weaknesses in implementation and divergence from the trajectory to meet the targets on time.
In addition, finance is key to realising the full benefits of the circular economy package. Therefore, it should be a top priority in the EU budget. The sustainability and climate goals, including those featured in the package, should be mainstreamed and form part of the budget horizontally, with special emphasis on cohesion and agricultural policies.
The EU budget currently has an old-fashioned structure that should be revised and the counter-productivity of some policy measures financed by the EU budget should be dealt with in the next MFF.