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Seven progressive steps to a circular economy [Promoted content]

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We could begin this opinion piece with a long explanation of the climate crisis. But you already know about it. You have read the warnings from climate bodies, and you have heard the speeches from world leaders. Sadly, you might even have witnessed the affects first hand – extreme heat, floods, drought, and wildfires are becoming ever more commonplace.

As a Union, we know we need to do something. The question is no longer if we act, but what we do.

The answer to that question is being fiercely debated. In the European Parliament and elsewhere, we have seen conservatives work to water down – or scrap entirely – landmark EU climate policies.

As socialists and democrats, we strongly criticise these attempts. Why? Because every day of inaction means the climate change challenge just grows bigger. We need to make big changes to our economy to make it fit for the future.

As ministers of economy, we hear many mixed opinions from businesses. There are those that want to speed up change, but there are also those who want to slow it down.

Our message today is Europe must press ahead. We want to provide a clear path forward, so businesses are clear about how we can achieve sustainability. Today, we propose seven steps for a circular economy.

First, new products must have a circular design. That means that they have a long life-expectancy, are fully recyclable, chemically safe, and made from as much recycled material as possible. An ambitious and consumer-centric Ecodesign Regulation can set the right framework to achieve this. Existing requirements have already saved consumers EUR120 billion in energy expenditure in 2021 alone. It is time to expand the existing standard to cover almost all products on the EU market, ban the destruction of unsold electronics items, and incentivise the use of raw materials recovered through recycling. We can support these processes by embedding them into public procurement standards so public money supports a sustainable future.

Second, we need to enable the re-extraction of raw materials by adopting an ambitious Critical Raw Materials Act and stepping-up research and innovation aimed at increasing options to re-extract critical raw materials from existing products. Europe has a great potential to become a leader in urban mining: recovering raw materials in our electronic waste. We can encourage the collection of waste from products with high critical raw materials by introducing discounts, monetary rewards or deposit-refund systems. And by introducing a circular product passport, we can ensure that sufficient information on the recyclability of a product is available to recyclers, repairers and refurbishers.

Third, we need to facilitate the development of a recycling industry that creates quality jobs for women and men. To achieve sustainability, we must put in place a comprehensive retraining and skill development programme as part of an EU Upskill Instrument, to ensure that no one is left behind in this transition. We must ensure safe working conditions and support collective bargaining.

Fourth, we have to set the right regulatory framework for a functioning secondary market for critical raw materials in the EU. That requires harmonised technical specifications and standardised high-quality information for market participants. That is how we make it as easy to operate on the secondary market as on the market for primary raw materials.

Fifth, we need to close the loop by facilitating the exchange of information along the entire value chain to ensure that technological developments in the raw materials and recycling industries feed back into product design choices, and vice versa. We have to work closely with our international partners to ensure that recycling can take precedence over extraction of new raw materials everywhere.

Sixth, we need a fully functioning Single Market based on clear and consistent rules that facilitate and encourage the dissemination of the products, including raw materials, secondary raw materials and waste, as well as the services required to achieve the transition of our economies. The initiatives mentioned above should be based on the principle of solidarity, ensuring easy access to the relevant materials and solutions for all Member States and inclusiveness for all businesses, including SMEs and micro-enterprises.

Seventh, we must maintain a level playing field for our companies, so the circular economy is not only environmentally responsible but also economically sustainable. We must tackle unfair competition from other economic blocs that may not share the same commitment to sustainability. This can be done through international cooperation to put in place mechanisms that address market distortions, enhance transparency, and promote fair trade practices. By doing this, we can ensure that upholding our commitment to sustainability also means businesses thrive in an increasingly globalised and environmentally conscious world.

These actions have been endorsed in a declaration by socialist and social-democratic economy ministers from Luxembourg, Belgium, Slovenia and Romania.

They are our seven progressive steps for a circular economy. Achieving them will challenging. But they are achievable, with political commitment. As socialists and democrats, we are ready to show that commitment.

For Europe, let us move forward with seven steps to build certainty for people, businesses and the climate.

Franz Fayot, Minister of the Economy, Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Luxembourg

Pierre-Yves Dermagne, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Employment, Belgium

Stefan-Radu Oprea, Minister of Economy, Romania



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