The Brief: Circular economy, enlargement and containing coronavirus

The Brief: Circular economy, enlargement and containing coronavirus
By Isabel Silva, Darren McCaffrey, Joanna Gill
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We continue our assessment of Team Ursula's first 100 days with a look at the bloc's new policy for new members hoping to join (North Macedonia, Albania) and also at the just launched circular economy strategy.


Another peg in the Green deal plans, the EU has launched it's circular economy strategy. It pushes for the better use of raw materials and a product’s reuse, repair and recycling.

The plan includes policies to make sure products have a longer shelf life, make information available to consumers on how repairable products are, as well as improving the treatment of waste (especially in electronics).

"We want to transform these sectors into circular systems, where waste is reduced to the minimum, if waste can not be avoided it has to be turn into a valuable resources. As Europe is not rich in natural resources, the circular economy would strengthen the immunity of our economy from geopolitical challenges," Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries told reporters.

While Green groups are happy that the EU is taking the circular economy seriously, once again they have criticised a lack of targets.

"The new Action Plan contains other key proposals for the transformation to a circular economy, such as a commitment to address key product value chains, to come forward with waste reduction targets and to revise waste shipment rules. However, several indispensable pieces of the puzzle are still missing; we lack clear targets for reducing resource consumption and disappointingly, the European Commission barely looks at the issue of pricing to stimulate the uptake of circular products over pristine items," Bas Eickhout (Dutch MEP Greens/EFA) said in a press statement.

Circle of life

The EU has been slow to include textiles in the circular economy model. Despite the fact that, the sector pollutes more than the aviation and shipping clusters combined. Each year, the European citizens buy, on average, more than 12kg of clothing, the production of which emits 195 million tonnes of CO2 and requires 46 million cubic meters of water.

We went to see how Belgium's fashionistas are already moving from fast fashion to eco-conscious designs.

Valérie Berckmans is one designer practising the principles of the circular economy. She uses her atelier and shop as a recycling laboratory. Leftovers of fabric get transformed into children garments, underwear and sanitary pads.

For the first time, the European commission has included textiles as a priority in the new circular economy action plan. However, the plan is vague on details. Valérie says that special financial measures are urgent.

She is also worried about the social impact of fashion and the lack of ethical practices by big companies that often exploit the workforce in poorer countries. She works with local workshops for the manufacturing, that also struggle to be in business.

But just like plastics, food and electronics, a more sustainable fashion industry is key to fight climate change.

Closed club?

Team Ursula has set a new course on EU membership. We assess the strategy at the 100 day mark.

Albania and North Macedonia, were two EU candidates countries left in uncertainty last October, when the Netherlands, Denmark and France blocked their accession talks.

France said enlargement is not possible until the EU revises it's strategy.

The new EU commission delivered this document in February.

"We are working to make accession talks possible. This was the first step, we have a lot of work ahead of us. But this was an important step in order to restart the whole process. We would like to convince everyone that this process is a good thing, Europe needs this process, and we have to do this together," Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.

Currently there are five EU candidate countries. Serbia and Montenegro might finish talks by 2025. The Turkish negotiations are blocked because of political conflicts. Albania and North Macedonia are waiting for the accession talks.

With the new methodology the EU wants to concentrate on fundamental questions like the rule of law, democracy and economy at the accession talks.


The commission thinks the guidelines might speed up the process.

"I think the big question is no so much what the commission will do, but of course what the EU leaders will do when they come together in March. We know there is a big support for starting the accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. We have three countries blocking. The big question is if we did enough in the last weeks to convince these last three capitals or giving them support not to have these countries accede to EU but to start talking and to start preparing of something, that will take many many years with Albania and North Macedonia. I don't think it's up to the Commission, we will see what in Paris is decided," explains Kati Piri (Dutch Socialist MEP - author of European Parliament 2018 report on Turkey).

With the Commission and the EU's Croatian presidency keeping the enlargement issue high on the agenda, leaders will discuss the enlargement strategy at the European Council in March.

They will also have a special EU-Western Balkans summit in May in Zagreb.

Containing coronavirus

The EU’s third largest economy deserted, in lock down, France is cancelling most major events and Germany and Spain are closing some schools and hospitals.


COVID-19 is not bound by national borders - but so far in this crisis different countries are doing very different things.

This in many ways is entirely understandable, each EU state is at different stages of this crisis, healthcare primarily is the competency of each individual country had not Brussels.

But it’s consequences are wide ranging, impacting not just health care systems but economies, businesses, the free movement of people.

One MEP claimed it was the biggest test for European solidarity in a generation.

And so far...?

Slovenia has all but closed its border to Italy, Hungary has announced its doing the same to Slovenia and Italy.


Belgium is accusing Germany of blocking medical supplies destined for a hospital.

While the Italian Ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari said Brussels needed to “go beyond engagement and consultations” and devise “emergency actions that are quick, concrete and effective”.

Italy feels it is China and not the EU who are providing more support in certain areas.

China has offered to sell Italy 1,000 lung ventilators, 2 million masks, 20,000 protective suits and 50,000 swabs for coronavirus tests.

Brussels finally tried to get a grip of the situation on Tuesday as EU leaders met via teleconference.


Among the promises, billions of extra money for health care sectors, relaxation of state aid rules so countries can help out companies and a proper enforcement of the single market to prevent hoarding of medical supplies.

Thursday the European Central Bank is expected to announce further measures.

Is it too little too late? There is little sign on closing borders (something Brussels along with France and Germany opposes) that countries are listening.

This crisis is almost certainly going to get worse, it will challenge solidarity even more - question is, will the EU manage to pass the test?

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