James Crisp. Freelance journalist in Brussels.

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Commission plans to ditch circular economy and air pollution rules

Frans Timmermans at his Parliament hearing. [European Parliament / Flickr]

Frans Timmermans at his Parliament hearing. [European Parliament / Flickr]

The European Commission plans to scrap its flagship Circular Economy package and anti-air pollution rules next week.

The executive will ditch the rules from its 2015 work programme, sources told EurActiv. That is set to be announced on Wednesday (17 December).

The Circular Economy package is designed to increase resource efficiency and recycling, and the Clean Air Package imposes rules that set member states’ air quality targets.

Sources told EurActiv that Commissioners were handed a secret document yesterday (10 December) at their weekly meeting. The document, outlining a list of bills to be killed off by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, was taken back from the Commissioners, after it was read and discussed.

A leaked version of the work programme, which emerged today, appeared to confirm the environmental laws, and 78 other pieces of pending legislation, would be scrapped. The Air Quality rules would be modified in view of the 2030 Climate and Energy package, the document said.

Timmermans is conducting a screening exercise of pending legislation as part of the Commission’s drive for “better regulation”. He sent a letter to the Commissioners last month, which suggested the rules were under threat.

Commissioners will meet on Tuesday to discuss the programme. An official announcement should follow the next day in the European Parliament.  The decision has not yet been finalised and could still change. Any withdrawal will first be discussed with the European Parliament and Council.

EurActiv has obtained a copy of a letter sent by European Parliament President Martin Schulz to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, dated 9 November.  Schulz stressed concerns that environmental and social policy feature adequately in the programme.

Both bills were on a hit list of laws that trade association BusinessEurope sent to the Commission. BusinessEurope wanted the Circular Economy package to be withdrawn and re-tabled as an economic piece of legislation”. Laws to reduce air pollution should be withdrawn, they said.

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

Environmental NGOs responding by writing to Juncker and Timmermans, asking the Commission to speed up the implementation of the bills.

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

Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden wrote a letter to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 December, calling on him to keep the Air Quality and Circular Economy packages.

The European Commission said it could not confirm or deny the legislation would be ditched, as the contents of its work programme had not yet been finalised. “In some cases the Commission, whilst fully supporting the objectives behind certain proposals, is considering withdrawing them to replace them with more effective means to achieve them, with a realistic chance of being adopted,” the executive said (see positions for full statement).


The Circular Economy package was proposed in July 2014.  It contained a wide-ranging list of legally binding targets.  They include:

  •          a 70% recycling target for municipal waste by 2030;
  •          an 80% recycling target for packaging, such as glass, paper, metal and plastic by 2030;
  •          and a ban on landfilling of all recyclable and biodegradable waste by 2025.

The package also lists a series of “aspirational” goals, which are not legally enforceable:

  •          a phase out of landfilling of all recoverable waste by 2030;
  •          a 30% reduction of waste by 2025;
  •          and a 30% fall in marine litter by 2020.

The Air Quality package revises rules first set in 1999. The 2013 proposal revises targets set in 1999, toughening then and increasing its scope to cover some new pollutants.

It fixes emissions ceilings at national level, for nitrogen dioxide for example, obliging member states to hit air quality targets. Supporters say it is the only way to reduce cross-border pollution in the EU. Sectors such as vehicle and fuel legislation, shipping regulations and UN agreements are covered by the draft law.

Read full story on EurActiv here.

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