Year after proposal, EU says waste plans are 'on track'
By Peter Teffer
Negotiations on new proposals aimed at reducing waste will not begin before the end of the year, but the European Commission still says the legislative work is “on track”.
One year ago, the commission proposed four pieces of legislation: on waste, on waste landfills, on packaging, and on electric and electronic waste.
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In order to become law, they need the approval from the European Parliament, and from the EU Council, where national governments meet.
However, things have fallen quiet in both institutions.
In the council, the file is still stuck at the civil servants' level.
At the last environment ministerial of the year, next Monday (19 December), ministers will be informed of the progress, but there will be no debate, which means that it will take until well into 2017 before member states reach a common position.
The file is not mentioned in the priorities of the Maltese EU presidency, which will take over on 1 January for six months.
Meanwhile, in the European Parliament, draft reports for the four files were finished in May. However, a vote has been delayed to at least January 2017.
MEPs tabled a total of 3,267 amendments for the four reports. Political groups are trying to merge them into compromise amendments before scheduling a vote.
Normally, the parliament's environment committee will then vote to give the author of the draft report the mandate to negotiate with the council and the commission on a compromise in so-called trilogues.
But two factors may soon make it more difficult to go directly to trilogues.
An absolute majority of MEPs is needed in a committee to decide to begin talks with the council. If the relations between the two biggest political groups - who have a majority together - continue to sour, this may become more difficult to achieve.
If no majority is in favour of direct talks, the file will have to go to plenary, where, in the words of one parliament source “anything can happen”.
Secondly, as of 16 January 2017, the parliament will have new rules of procedures.
Under those rules, any group, or one tenth of committee MEPs, can delay going to trilogues by forcing a confirmation vote in plenary session.
The slow progress is ironic, given that the EU commission withdrew a previous waste package.
In December 2014, a draft working programme of the new Jean-Claude Juncker administration was leaked. It emerged that Juncker would withdraw a legislative proposal on waste that was proposed as recently as July 2014.
The reason given was that there was “no foreseeable agreement” among the other EU institutions.
The proposal was withdrawn within eight months of being proposed. On 2 December 2015, Juncker's right-hand man Frans Timmermans announced new and improved proposals on waste, as part of a broader “circular economy package”.
A circular economy is a theoretical concept that envisages a world in which raw materials are recycled or reused, and products are repaired rather than thrown away.
Timmermans said that this plan was ambitious, but also feasible.
More than 12 months since the new waste proposals were announced, it does not seem like progress is quicker than on the withdrawn file.
Yet, for the commission, “everything is on track.”
“You are going to see in the months ahead: we are going to go ahead with all the planned initiatives that we presented, and some others too,” commission spokesman Enrico Brivio told EUobserver at Wednesday's (14 December) daily press conference in Brussels.
He noted that the commission did "not regret at all" withdrawing the previous plan.
“We adopted an ambitious circular economy package,” Brivio said.