With its Green Deal, Europe is the first continent in the world to adopt a clearly ecologically oriented course for further economic growth up to the year 2050. Announced in March 2020, the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy underlines the importance of the recycling and resource-saving waste management industry. However, despite the initial approval by the industry associations, more and more critical voices are heard.
Only a few weeks ago, the European Commission's green plan received support from an authoritative source with French President Emmanuel Macron expressly declaring his support for Europe's Green Deal. "The green transition of our economy must not be called into question; on the contrary, it must be accelerated. In every sector, we need to link Europe's recovery to conditions for the climate, environment and biodiversity," Macron said when he presented the 500 billion-euro EU economic recovery fund in mid-May, reaffirming Europe's commitment to the green reorientation—despite all the coronavirus confusion.
A quick look back: on December 11, 2019, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen used the following words to announce the roadmap for a sustainable EU economy: "The Green Deal is our new growth strategy. This is Europe's 'man on the moon' moment."
According to the plan, Europe is to become completely climate-neutral by 2050, with member states being allowed to emit only as much CO₂ as they can compensate for elsewhere. As an interim target, CO₂ emissions shall already be reduced by at least 50 % by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The EU plans to mobilize the considerable sum of around one trillion euros by 2030 for the necessary restructuring. The deal is designed to move the EU forward not only in terms of climate neutrality. The investments are also intended to ensure innovation, growth and new jobs. To this end, the EU is planning to successively publish further strategy papers by 2021 to bring about a targeted shift towards sustainability in individual economic sectors such as industry, agriculture, construction, species protection, etc.
This also includes the Circular Economy Action Plan, which was presented in Brussels on March 11, 2020. Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Climate Action: “To achieve climate-neutrality by 2050, to preserve our natural environment, and to strengthen our economic competitiveness, requires a fully circular economy. Today, our economy is still mostly linear, with only 12 % of secondary materials and resources being brought back into the economy.” Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, added that the Circular Economy Action Plan is the core of the EU’s considerations to how Europe can economically recover after the coronavirus crisis.
In detail, the Action Plan contains the following key points:
The Circular Economy Action Plan announced in Brussels met with a predominantly positive response from associations and institutions. BDE President Peter Kurth explained: "Resource conservation and circular economy are nothing for good times only, but the foundation for an economy of the future that enables growth and ensures prosperity. The EU's Green Deal is the right roadmap here." The head of the Federal Association of the German Waste, Water and Raw Materials Management Industry (BDE) also suggested that the time of Germany's EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2020 should be taken as an opportunity to declare the “Year of the Circular Economy” in Germany and Europe. According to Kurth's proposal, political discussions on economic and environmental protection issues should be conducted more with a view to conserving the climate, resources and energy.
Patrick Hasenkamp, Vice President of the German Association of Local Utilities (VKU), emphasized: "The initiative could become a milestone for climate and resource protection in the EU. It is also clear, however, that the path to a climate-neutral recycling economy the Commission is striving for is long. It is essential to keep the goal in mind.” Currently, every European generates 488 kilograms of household waste every year. Therefore, it is now crucial to clarify and not dilute the targets on the further way of implementing the Action Plan.
In a recently published report, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) also welcomes the EU initiative. There it says that with the tailwind provided by the European Green Deal and the New Circular Economy Action Plan, there is the opportunity to transform the circular economy from rhetoric into practice.
As a result of the coronavirus crisis, in addition to positive statements on the Green Deal, there is a growing number of cautionary voices. Europe's car manufacturers sound the alarm most intensively. The companies are fighting for survival, the umbrella organization of European car manufacturers recently complained and in an official letter called on the EU Commission to postpone plans for stricter CO2 limits. And the car manufacturers are not alone: from plastics manufacturers to the agricultural industry, lobbyists are writing huge numbers of e-mails to the Brussels Commissioners. All with the same message: strict climate regulations are poison for Europe's economic upswing. However, at the end of May, before the European Parliament's Environment Committee, Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans left no doubt that the Commission wanted to stick to its program to help fight climate change. Hence, there are signs of a struggle for power between the two positions. Outcome unknown.
Please note: The EU Green Deal described above is independent of the EU reconstruction aid of 750 billion euros announced at the end of May, which is primarily intended to stimulate the ailing EU internal market after the coronavirus crisis and to support individual economically ailing countries. The EU Commission wants the coronavirus stimulus plan to help finance the green restructuring of the economy.