Category Archives: European Union

12 years ago this week we persuaded MEPs to back a 50% recycling target, and helped kick off the EU’s circular economy debate

Back in 2007, MEPs were discussing a revision to the EU’s main waste law, the Waste Framework Directive. The proposal from the European Commission was distinctly unimpressive, focussing on tinkering with end of waste standards, and a three step waste hierarchy (with recycling, reuse and incineration on the same level!).

I was leading Friends of the Earth’s (FoE) Resource use team, and we were working with Melissa Shinn at the European Environment Bureau (EEB) to get this draft law amended so that it would actually drive the resources debate forward.

Twelve years ago this week (the 13th February 2007), the European Parliament was preparing to vote on its first reading position on this law. We had been talking to the Parliament’s Environment Committee and had persuaded them to back the normal five step waste hierarchy. However, we had failed to persuade them to take a bigger step, to back a 50% recycling target for municipal waste by 2020, which we had decided was a reasonable target for Europe to set.

Our focus was on the MEPs preparing to vote in Strasbourg… we had a banner, some nice valentines cards (see above – Win my heart with your vote, Stop the Waste!, Vote recycling not incineration!), and people from the EEB and FoE networks around the EU to have lots of conversations with MEPs around the parliament… and we won by a margin of 85 votes (384 to 299).

This wasn’t the end of the story of course, as EU Member States must also approve new laws, but after many more discussions and arguments, the law was adopted in 2008, including the 50% recycling target and a important commitment to review this target:

By 31 December 2014 at the latest, the Commission shall examine the measures and the targets referred to in paragraph 2 with a view to, if necessary, reinforcing the targets and considering the setting of targets for other waste streams“.

This review process was then used by then-Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik to kick off a proposed increase in recycling targets, including 70% of municipal waste by 2030, as part of his Circular economy initiative. The current Commission then withdraw this proposal and later re-tabled a new circular economy package, with a 65% by 2030 target, which is now EU law.

One lesson from this story is the way in which EU policy can build over time, allowing incremental improvements. A second is that civil society needs to continue to work on important environmental issues even when they are not trendy (as was the case with recycling in 2007), and such work can facilitate faster progress when an issue rises up the agenda again (as has happened with the ‘Circular Economy’).

These recycling targets affect environmental policies in all EU Member States, including the UK. The UK’s “Resources and Waste Strategy“, published in December 2018 has a nice timeline on page 13 which includes the 50% and 65% recycling targets, despite Brexit!

[I first posted this on linked in yesterday]

Advertisements

What is the EU and how does it work?

There’s currently a big debate in the UK in the run up to a referendum on EU membership on Thursday 23rd June 2016.

It’s clear from the debate so far that there is a fair amount of confusion about what the EU actually is, and how EU democracy works. I’ve been working on EU environmental policy for over 15 years, so I’ve got a fair bit of experience in how it works.

The EU is unique in the world, as it is both a free trade area but also a region with many common environmental and social standards. In order to do this the EU must agree laws and policies.

EU laws are agreed by a democratic process:

  • For most laws the European Commission proposes the law (usually after a request from governments), then the elected European Parliament and elected national governments discuss and agreeing the final shape of the law.
  • Secondary legislation – such as a ban on a specific pesticide – is usually done through a different procedure, where national governments have much more power than the European parliament.

Within the EU there is also the Eurozone, sharing a common currency. The Eurozone also has some specific governance structures, and the European Parliament has limited powers over it (which I think is probably a problem). The UK isn’t in the Eurozone.

It’s worth noting that elected national governments are the most powerful players at EU level. Each of these governments should be accountable to their populations, and to national parliaments.

In many areas only a ‘qualified majority‘ of national governments need to support a measure for it to happen. Unanimity is required for treaty changes, trade deals, enlargement allowing new countries into the EU etc. For example, all EU countries would have to support the accession of Turkey into the EU, or the signing of a trade deal like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Almost all enforcement of EU legislation occurs within the Member States., though a small number of regulations are enforced at EU level, notably competition law.

To learn more:

See the more detailed pages on this blog – What is the EU?How does the EU work? and How are laws created and enforced?

 

I started a web site on hormone disrupting chemicals 20 years ago….

In July 1995 – 20 years ago – I started a web site on hormone disrupting chemicals.

I’ve got a full backup of the site as it was on 5th September 1995 – here’s a pdf of the front page.

A later version of the web site was up until 2018, when TalkTalk stopped providing web space. However, the site is still available on the Internet Archive ‘Wayback Machine’ – here’s the pages as they were in March 2000. [This paragraph was updated in April 2019 to remove the original link & add a ‘wayback’ link].  Continue reading

Vote in the EU elections – and ask your friends & family to do the same

Don’t believe what you read in the newspapers or see on TV – the elections for the European Parliament really are important.

They aren’t just an opportunity to vote against the governing parties in your country – or to vote against European Union (EU) policies on austerity – or even against the EU itself. Continue reading

Window dressing vs reduced business risks and impacts – which to choose?

Companies have impacts – on people, on the environment – some positive, some negative. Sometimes the negative impacts become very obvious and very negative – for example when a textile factory in Bangladesh collapses. Sometimes the impacts are less visible, displacement of people from their land, discharge of toxic chemicals, or exploitation of fossil fuels.

There are many way of addressing these impacts, including direct legislation, standards & labelling. One approach that sounds promising at first sight – but is yet to really deliver – is company reporting: Continue reading

We need to change – but to what? and how fast?

“cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

We are living in a time of cognitive dissonance – on the one hand, many people (particularly in business) now realise that the economy can’t go on the way it is – with increasing climate changing emissions, pressure on resources and biodiversity – while at the same time taking the view that it’s not politically practical to do anything about it. Continue reading

A more democratic EU? Stop government secrecy!

In UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s EU speech this week he talked of the need to increase the EU’s “democratic accountability”.

One little known fact is that the most secretive and undemocratic piece of the EU is actually ‘Council’, EU Governments (Member States) – including the UK – getting together to decide their view on EU laws.

Council is one of the two decision making bodies of the EU, see this page for a quick explanation, the other being the European Parliament – the European Commission only proposes legislation.

For example, look at this document on the Council’s web site, where the main content of the document is:

“DELETED FROM THIS POINT UNTIL THE END OF PAGE 5 “

And this is not some obscure piece of legislation. This is the negotiations on a new law that would force European mining companies to disclose what they are paying governments around the world, part of a global campaign on transparency – see the “Publish What You Pay” campaign site for more details.

There are thousands of censored documents on the Council web site, many saying useful things like “one Member State said” “Several Member States said”. Governments around Europe are hiding what they are doing at EU level.

So, the electorate is not permitted to see what governments are up to. Sometimes complete documents – or rumours – leak out, but it is a closed, secretive process. These leaks probably also go more often to industry interests than to civil society ones.

Contrast this with the elected EU parliament, where you can see who tables which amendments, and where votes are open & often available in full (‘roll call votes’). This detailed information enables people like VoteWatch and environmental groups to monitor exactly what each MEP is up to. VoteWatch also tries to analyse government voting patterns, but its only data is the formal votes that happen at the end of a process, not the real debate on what governments will or won’t accept.

So is David Cameron’s ‘reform’ plan going to include openness for council?

Will the UK take a unilateral decision to open up all of its negotiation documents?

Let’s wait and see…