Category Archives: European Parliament

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]

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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

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…

Commission nominees give written responses to Parliament’s questions

Next week in Brussels the European Parliament’s committees will be cross-examining the nominees for the new Commission – the timetable is here. The Parliament has sent written questions to the nominees already, and has now published their responses on their Hearings web site.

The Environment nominee Janez Potočnik says in his response that his “three priorities .. would be promoting a green economy, halting the loss of biodiversity and implementing and improving existing environmental legislation.”

He also puts a welcome emphasis on the importance of making Europe more resource efficient, which is a priority for my work at Friends of the Earth (see our Resources & Consumption campaign web page for more info):

Resource efficiency will be a critical component of any strategy to protect our environment and enhance our competitiveness. It will mean putting in place the right mix of smart regulation, incentives and market-based mechanisms to foster eco-innovation and sustainable consumption and production, finding ways to promote the changes needed which fully respect our levels of environmental ambition. This will include presenting action plans for eco- innovation, environmental technologies and the next phase of Sustainable Consumption and Production to make the EU more resource efficient.

He also acknowledges that environmental policy is not about selecting one “silver bullet” – ‘If we are to achieve ambitious environmental objectives, we must act on many policy fronts.’

Welcome pack for Environment Committee MEPs, briefing documents on climate policy

The Institute for European Environmental Policy’s (IEEP) latest newsletter is full of interesting stuff, including links to a couple of projects involving training MEPs, and stories on EU land use, sustainable development indicators & promoting the importance of biodiversity:
http://www.ieep.eu/publications/pdfs/newsletters/newsletter_autumn_2009.pdf

The first training project is a set of briefing documents on climate policy, aimed at MEPs and assistants (they are also running a training programme):
http://www.ieep.eu/climatebriefings//

The second is a welcome package for new MEPs on the Environment Committee, which summarises legislative progress in the last parliament, identifies some priorities for the next & lists upcoming implementation and review dates for legislation:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/activities/committees/studies/download.do?language=en&file=26671

Barroso wins the Parliament’s vote – though without great enthusiasm

The European Parliament has today voted for Barroso to be the Commission president – 382 MEPs voted for him, 219 against and 117 abstained – which was enough to give him the job, but clearly also shows a considerable level of opposition, reflected by the quotes in this BBC story.

The next step in creating a new line-up of European Commissioners is on hold until after the Irish vote again on the LIsbon treaty on 2nd October. At some point after this vote (whatever the outcome), Barroso will start to put together the team of 26 other Commissioners, using the people nominated by EU governments. The European Parliament will then get a chance to question and vote on these nominees.

Barroso approaches his big Parliament vote tomorrow

Tomorrow (Wednesday 16th) the European Parliament will vote on whether to give the Commission president José Manuel Barroso a second term. EU governments have already supported him, but some political groups in the Parliament – notably the Greens – have been rather less keen. There’s no obvious alternative candidate though….

As part of his campaign for the job, Barroso has unveiled his own five year plan (covered by Euractiv here) for the European Commission.

The plan contains some general statements about climate change and sustainability, e.g. “We need to start working now on a radical pathway to reaching a far more sustainable Europe by 2020”, but the European Environment Bureau have criticised the narrow focus of his proposals in a letter to MEPs:

‘Despite being a subject of prime concern, the EEB warns that the sustainability issue moves far beyond that of climate change.

“If consumption patterns of people in all societies in the world would be at the same level of EU consumers, we would need almost three planets to provide the resources and neutralise the resulting pollution.” Wrote John Hontelez, Secretary General of the EEB, the largest federation of European environmental NGOs; “The EU requires a more holistic resource efficiency approach.’

Barroso himself took part in what sounds like quite a heated debate with the green group, as reported by EUObserver:

They should have sold tickets to this wrestling match, and offered popcorn and hot dogs in the committee room. The standing-room-only chamber in the European Parliament was filled with reporters, MEPs, their assistants and anyone who wanted to see that rarest of Brussels events – an out-and-out political brawl.

“Look, you’re already totally against me,” Mr Barroso responded. “I don’t understand that …The Greens are amongst the most pro-European of parties and there is a convergence between us on many questions: climate change, energy, fundamental rights …But even before this discussion, you have decided: ‘Stop Barroso!'”

German MEP Rebecca Harms, the co-president of the Green group alongside Mr Cohn-Bendit, reacted: “I’m sorry to say this, but whether you are a lame duck or not, this is an opinion which is not decided in three months, but a position that the public has already taken.”

There are even – at this late stage – proposals for alternative ‘fall back’ candidates, as reported by the Economist:

WITH a deliciously malicious sense of timing, the French daily, Le Monde, has lobbed a rock into the Brussels duckpond this morning, reporting that the French prime minister François Fillon would be prepared to step in as the centre-right candidate for boss of the European Commission, if the incumbent, José Manuel Barroso, cannot pull off a necessary vote of approval in the European Parliament.