A plan to obtain member state endorsement of the Commission’s intention to withdraw the ‘circular economy’ proposal to reduce waste landfill was dealt an unexpected blow today (10 February) by Europe ministers meeting in Brussels.
The Commission asked ministers meeting at the general affairs council today whether they had a strong objection to the plan. Environment ministers, a majority of whom expressed their disapproval of the plan in December, privately accused the Commission of trying to extract approval from a non-related council taken up with larger issues such as Greece, terrorism and Ukraine.
Although the ministers adopted the conclusions endorsing the work programme as a whole, they let it be known that they told Frans Timmermans, the Commission vice-president for better regulation, that they do not want the circular economy package to be scrapped, according to the Latvian presidency of the Council of Ministers.
Edgars Rinkevics, the foreign minister of Latvia, told journalists after the meeting: “We really expect the Commission will not withdraw its proposals on the waste management directive and air quality.” He added: “I think the Commission got all the necessary messages from the Council.”
Council sources say a majority of those in the room expressed their disapproval of the decision to withdraw the waste proposal, either officially or on the sidelines. However the Commission disputes this characterisation. According to recorded minutes of the meeting seen by European Voice, four member states voiced an official objection to the plan.
The Commission says it plans to put forward a new, improved waste proposal this year. But green campaign groups say Timmermans has not provided an adequate explanation of what is wrong with the existing proposal.
The Commission’s work programme does not need approval from member states or the European Parliament, but Timmermans said in December that he would take the views of both into account before taking a final decision on whether to withdraw pending proposals. The circular economy proposal was adopted by the previous Commission of José Manuel Barroso last year and had already started the legislative process in the Parliament and the Council.
Last month the European Parliament failed to adopt a resolution reacting to the work programme because of disagreements between party groups. Though a majority of MEPs had approved specific amendments saying the waste proposal should not be withdrawn, the Commission suggested it would interpret the lack of an official position from the Parliament as a go-ahead for the withdrawal.
The Council has now ended up with a similar split, with no formal condemnation of the plan, but with a majority of environment ministers making it clear they do not want the proposal to be withdrawn.
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Last week four environmental campaign groups filed a freedom-of-information request for any documents related to the decision to withdraw the proposal. The campaigners’ request states: “When announcing this plan, no analysis or evidence was provided that would justify such a decision.” Though it had been expected that the Commission would take a formal decision today to withdraw the proposal after today’s endorsement of the work programme, no such decision has been announced.