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Commissioner Potočnik urges European governments to integrate environmental and economic policies

The outgoing environment commissioner has urged governments across the EU to further integrate their environmental and economic policies as resources become increasingly scarce and costly.

Potocnik speech

Speaking at a public lecture at the Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College, London, Janez Potočnik, right, made a passionate case for politicians to send “strong signals” to shift towards a circular economy.

“I often hear here in your country [the UK] that we are over-regulated…Regulation is not bad. But bad regulation is bad. We should be careful when we simply attack regulation,” he said. “You need clear and predictable rules, which are leading us somewhere, because we need to know where we go,” he added.

“For innovation to be really efficient you need to give a clear policy signal [to mark] in which direction you would like innovation to go.”

The commisioner also confirmed some leaked details of an upcoming set of EU policy, which will be released on 1 July, including the introduction of a raw material consumption to GDP indicator, with a non-binding target to reduce material consumption by 30% by 2030.

“The essence of it is set out a framework for member states to shape their policies [accordingly],” he said.

He said governments should also consider the proposals included in the latest “European Semester”, a policy coordination effort put forward by the European Council. One of them is moving taxation from labour to resources.

“It makes no sense that we are taxing a lot labour, as it happens today, when labour is not scarce as unemployment is high, and on the other hand we have scarce resources that we are not taxing,” said Potočnik.

Another measure would be removing the so-called “environmentally harmful subsidies” and to use those funding to support investments in the circular economy.

The Europe 2020 strategy calls for those incentives to be phased out, with subsidies to fossil fuels constituting a significant part of them.

Potočnik, who is near the end of his five-year office at the European Commission, also mentioned the possibility of using procurement to support more sustainable business models.

“Public procurement is 67-70% of GDP. We are currently using it predominantly for the purposes of lowering prices, but we don’t use it as an instrument for change to redirect [our economy].”

As well as providing stronger policy frameworks, governments had to engage with companies to get them appreciate the circular economy agenda, and the commissioner said he was open to suggestions from business on how to do that.

“I’m liked in the business sector. I’m as approachable from businesses as I am from the civil society,” he said.

Potočnik also gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) as part of its inquiry on the circular economy. As well as reiterating the message on shifting taxation and measurement to resource and their productivity, he made a case for governments to invest in the separate collection of recyclable materials.

“A lot of public money needs to go to separate collections. Private companies see the potential of profit in collecting and using those materials and making new materials out of them,” he told EAC MPs.




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