31 January 2019

“We have set something which is irreversible” – European Commission’s Katainen on circular economy agenda

On 31 January, European Commission vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, addressed an international panel on the next steps for Europe’s circular economy and plastics agenda - beyond the 2019 European elections.

Also looking back at the last five years of European institutional action, Mr Katainen said that the European Union had set an “irreversible” agenda on the circular economy, with strong progress on a series of circular economy actions since the beginning of the current Commission’s mandate five years ago.

“As part of the Circular Economy Action Plan, we have had legislative changes in areas such as waste legislation, single-use plastics and fishing gear – and these will have a significant impact on the sustainability agenda,” said Mr Katainen.

“But now we have to focus on the implementation of what we have achieved. Legislation is a big challenge for many of our member states so we have to help them with this legislation.”

 “We have eight months to influence the agenda of the [current] Commission” Mr Katainen added, referring to the time remaining until the next European Commission begins its mandate in November 2019.

“The Circular Plastics Alliance is a tool for the Commission to [engage with] all aspects of the value chain. The Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform is also helping,” said Mr Katainen. The Circular Plastics Alliance, an alliance of private sector actors active in the EU, was established in Brussels in December 2018.

Revealing specific objectives for the coming years, Mr Katainen also hinted at efforts to engage with China and Japan on the circular economy agenda and on plastic packaging.

“My dream is that we create a quality standard for plastic packaging, and that China and Japan would have this too. We are working on this at the moment.”

Looking ahead beyond the EU elections and change of Commission this year, Mr Katainen said the “next flow of actions [by the European Commission] must be fed in already now.”

“Circular economy will be on the agenda of the next European Commission,” he said. “We have set something which is irreversible.”

Launched in December 2015, the Circular Economy Package put in place the conditions for Europe-wide progress on circularity in a range of areas. The package was followed by the very first Europe-wide plastics strategy, published in January 2018.

As the strategy was published, European Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans said: “The only long-term solution is to reduce plastic waste by recycling and reusing more. This is a challenge that citizens, industry and governments must tackle together. With the EU Plastics Strategy we are also driving a new and more circular business model. We need to invest in innovative new technologies that keep our citizens and our environment safe whilst keeping our industry competitive."

The panel debate ‘Beyond the 2019 Elections: what next for Europe’s circular economy and plastics agenda?’ was organised by the Aldersgate Group, and also featured representatives from SUEZ, Nestlé, Ramboll and Sky plc.

For more live updates from future events in Brussels and beyond, follow us on Twitter via @circ_economy.