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What are the risks?
By David Eldridge
Posted 15 January 2015
The new Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, seems to want to cut back the regulatory burden experienced by European companies, but early signals are mixed. Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President with the power to veto proposals from Commission departments, was squaring up to use his veto on the plastics bags plan, but he withdrew from the fight without throwing a punch.
At the PolyTalk event in November, organised by PlasticsEurope, speaker after speaker from the plastics industry expressed frustration about the Commission’s sustainability agenda getting in the way of competitiveness (see page 12). In his speech, Karl Falkenberg, environment director general, responded that resource efficiency and clean production technology would put Europe ahead of the world. But that scenario – if it happens – would be many years from now.
NGOs show little tolerance of risk when discussing industry in connection with the environment and human health. Yet the risk to Europe’s economy is not recognised by those who propose the Circular Economy as a route to competitiveness. The principles of resource efficiency have not been tested in the real economy of the modern world, so no-one can be sure green technology will deliver big gains to Europe’s economy. For one thing, the Circular Economy focuses on supply-side issues, leaving questions unanswered about the amount and type of demand for the new products and services that would be created.
Of course, one policy area cannot control the direction of Europe’s economy. But the sustainability debate does pose important questions of industrial and economic policy for the new Commission. What level of risk to the economy does it consider acceptable for pursuing green objectives? Is it happy to have slower growth now for advantages in 30 years time?

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