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Ulrike Müller: Circular economy must inspire innovation potential

Circular Economy

Last Tuesday, the European Parliament voted on a report on the Circular Economy Action Plan. The report, adopted with 574 votes in favour, 22 against and 95 abstentions, is a response to the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. As part of the Green Deal, this should lead to a more efficient use of resources in the EU and in particular promote waste prevention and recycling. 

In principle, EDP Executive Vice-President Ulrike Müller welcomes the report, for which her group colleague Jan Huitema (Renew Europe) is responsible as rapporteur. She supports the approach to put waste prevention in the foreground and to strive for a reduction of the ecological footprint of EU citizens. In her eyes, the focus should be on incentives for innovation and sustainable business.

Do the demands endanger Europe as a business location?

Ulrike Müller underlines the importance of the circular economy to achieve the EU sustainability goals: "The circular economy offers a lot of economic potential for innovative German and European companies. The Commission's action plan as well as the Parliament's report provide important impulses here."

However, Ulrike Müller is critical of some elements of the report. The report contains the demand for an area-wide, mandatory target for the reduced use of primary raw materials. Müller finds this demand problematic. She calls for targeted and appropriate measures instead of a blanket target.

In the version presented by the Parliament, German MEP Ulrike Müller fears a threat to industrial production in the EU: "We know that in the textile sector, for example, so much is produced that not all of it finds its way into the shops, let alone into the wardrobes. That is not sustainable. But in the current formulation of the Parliament, such a measure could lead to the remaining industrial production moving out of the EU."

Use of recycled raw materials must become more attractive

Instead, Ulrike Müller calls for a differentiated catalogue of measures: "The Commission should not issue a general, unspecific target for all primary raw materials. Instead, it should start with targeted measures where there are actually problems. That way we can avoid wasting resources without endangering Europe as an industrial location."

Ulrike Müller thinks it is better to create incentives instead of bans: "We should not restrict the use of primary raw materials by law, but make the use of secondary raw materials, i.e. recyclates, more attractive through appropriate framework conditions."

Innovation needs good framework conditions

For Ulrike Müller, the focus must be on creating favourable conditions for innovation: "Europe is poor in raw materials but rich in know-how. We must activate this immense innovation potential of our continent. This includes standards, for example and especially for the quality of recyclates, so that they become more competitive and can replace primary raw materials in significant quantities."

Educated consumers are the be-all and end-all

Ulrike Müller once again repeats her call for good information and education for end consumers. Specifications for the design of consumer products and demands for binding specifications regarding the lifespan, materials and reparability of products should not lead to rising prices. Furthermore, she sees this as a threat to innovation. Instead, consumer information must be strengthened. The framework should not be set too narrowly with a view to satisfying consumer demand.

Background: Efficient circular economy for sustainability and competitiveness

Consumption by Europeans alone is currently equivalent to the carrying capacity of three Earths. A circular economy that is as comprehensive as possible is therefore central to staying within planetary limits in the long term. In order to achieve the goals of the Green Deal and climate neutrality by 2050, resource efficiency is an important factor alongside renewable energies and energy efficiency. Furthermore, the circular economy offers great economic opportunities for research, development and production in the EU. An efficient circular economy has positive impacts on economic growth, competitiveness and the labour market.

This report refers to the general EU framework for the circular economy. It regulates, among other things, strengthening the lifespan, repairability and recyclability of products, as well as a framework for secondary raw materials. It also looks at key value chains such as electronics, batteries&vehicles, packaging, textiles, construction or food. The report emphasises the importance of incentives for innovation and sustainable businesses. The EU market for recyclates and the use of sustainable and renewable raw materials should be promoted.