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Transition Towards a Resource Efficient Circular Economy in Europe: Policy Lessons From the EU and the Member States

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With the introduction of the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (2011) and the more recent commitment of The Action Plan towards the Circular Economy (2015), the European Commission (EC) has expressed its fundamental interest to substantially improve the resource efficiency of the European economy and enable the transition towards the Circular Economy (CE). This policy push has meanwhile been complemented by some quite ambitious national programmes for RE and CE and institutional advances but it is not yet bound to targets or mandatory reporting. Against this background, the objective of this paper is to give a comprehensive overview of the current policy frameworks at EU and a selection of MSs and provide insights into the elements shaping policy processes. The analytical framework relies on three essential interconnected components: the policy framework, the economic incentive system and economic side policies which are relevant in the context of RE and CE and actor constellations. The paper does this looking at the interface between EU-MSs. The analysis is based on different empirical surveys in which the policy development is observed and discussed (EEA 2011, 2016a, 2016b, EIO 2013, 2014, 2016) and a comprehensive review of legislative and policy frameworks at the EU and selected MSs, undertaken as part of the project POLFREE (Policy option for a Resource-Efficient Economy) (Domenech et al., 2014, Bahn-Walkowiak et al., 2014). The analysis reveals that policy frameworks for RE/CE are complex and fragmented as competing goals and visions reduce effectiveness of measures. The paper makes recommendations as to how EU and MS policies could improve RE in a coordinated way, but recognizes that achieving such coordination will be challenging in the current political context.
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Teresa Domenech, Bettina Bahn-Walkowiak
Transition Towards a
Resource Efficient Circular
Economy in Europe
Policy Lessons From the EU and the
Member States
Originally published in:
Ecological Economics,
155 (2019), pp. 7-19
DOI: 10.1016/J.ecolecon.2017.11.001
Transition towards a resource efficient circular economy in Europe Domenech & Bahn-Walkowiak 2019
2 | Wuppertal Institut
Teresa Domenech a,*
Bettina Bahn-Walkowiak b
Transition towards a resource effi-
cient circular economy in Europe:
Policy lessons from the EU and the
Member States
a University College London, Central House, 14 Upper Wo-
burn Place, London WC1H 0NN, United Kingdom
b Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Ener-
gy, Doeppersberg 19, Wuppertal D-42109, Germany
*Corresponding author:
Teresa Domenech
University College London
Central House
14 Upper Woburn Place
London WC1H 0NN
United Kingdom
E-mail: t.domenech@ucl.ac.uk
This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication. Changes
resulting from the publishing process, such as editing, corrections and structural
formatting, may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made
to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was sub-
sequently published in the Journal cited above.
Received 1 March 2017; Received in revised form 8 August 2017; Accepted 1 No-
vember 2017
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents 3
List of Tables 4
List of Figures 5
Abstract 6
1 Introduction: Motivations for a Resource Efficiency Policy Framework 7
2 Methodological notes 10
2.1 Definitions 10
2.2 Analytical Framework 10
2.3 Data Sources 11
3 The Transition to a Resource Efficient Circular Economy: Overview of Policy
Frameworks 12
3.1 EU policy landscape 12
3.1.1 EU Policy Framework for Resource Efficiency: Legal Basis and
Key Programmes 12
3.1.2 The EU Policy Framework for the Circular Economy 15
3.1.3 Key Instruments 16
3.1.4 Relevant Side Policies at EU level: Synergies and Conflicts 16
3.1.5 Framework Conditions for RE and CE in Europe: System of
Incentives and Innovation 18
3.1.6 Conclusion 20
3.2 National Policy Frameworks 20
3.2.1 Programmes, Targets and Institutions 20
3.2.2 Economic Incentive Systems and Further Relevant Policies 22
3.2.3 Green R&D, Eco-innovation, and Phasing out Environmentally
Harmful Subsidies 23
4 The EU-MSs Interface of RE: Processes, Gaps and Actor Constellations 26
4.1 Policy Processes and Actor Constellations 26
4.2 Framework Conditions for RE/CE in Europe 27
5 Conclusions 28
References 31
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List of Tables
Tab. 3-1 EU policy instruments and main purposes/targets ----------------------------------------------------------- 13
Tab. 3-2 “Transforming the economy” areas, milestones and responsibilities ------------------------------------ 14
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List of Figures
Fig. 1-1 Evolution of domestic material consumption (in billion tonnes), 20002014,
EU(28). Source: Eurostat, 2016. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 7
Fig. 1-2 Domestic material consumption per capita in tonnes EU(28). Source: Eurostat,
2017b. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 8
Fig. 1-3 DMC and GDP average annual change rates in EU-28 and countries between
2000 and 2015. Source: Eurostat, 2016. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 9
Fig. 2-1 Analytical Famework. Source: Authors’ elaboration. -------------------------------------------------------- 11
Fig. 3-1 Synergies and trade-offs across different dimensions of RE; Source: authors’
generated (synergies in green, trade-offs in red) ------------------------------------------------------------- 17
Fig. 3-2 Policy frameworks of resource efficiency policies with respect to Roadmap
requirements of four example countries; Source: Bahn-Walkowiak et. al., 2014. -------------------- 24
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Abstract
With the introduction of the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (2011) and the
more recent commitment of The Action Plan towards the Circular Economy (2015),
the European Commission (EC) has expressed its fundamental interest to substan-
tially improve the resource efficiency of the European economy and enable the tran-
sition towards the Circular Economy (CE). This policy push has meanwhile been
complemented by some quite ambitious national programmes for RE and CE and in-
stitutional advances but it is not yet bound to targets or mandatory reporting.
Against this background, the objective of this paper is to give a comprehensive over-
view of the current policy frameworks at EU and a selection of MSs and provide in-
sights into the elements shaping policy processes. The analytical framework relies on
three essential interconnected components: the policy framework, the economic in-
centive system and economic side policies which are relevant in the context of RE
and CE and actor constellations. The paper does this looking at the interface between
EU-MSs. The analysis is based on different empirical surveys in which the policy de-
velopment is observed and discussed (EEA 2011, 2016a, 2016b, EIO 2013, 2014,
2016) and a comprehensive review of legislative and policy frameworks at the EU
and selected MSs, undertaken as part of the project POLFREE (Policy option for a
Resource-Efficient Economy) (Domenech et al., 2014, Bahn-Walkowiak et al., 2014).
The analysis reveals that policy frameworks for RE/CE are complex and fragmented
as competing goals and visions reduce effectiveness of measures. The paper makes
recommendations as to how EU and MS policies could improve RE in a coordinated
way, but recognizes that achieving such coordination will be challenging in the cur-
rent political context.
Keywords: resource efficiency; circular economy; policy frameworks; ecological eco-
nomics
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1 Introduction: Motivations for a Resource Efficiency Policy
Framework
Changes in the commodity markets and price volatility of resources in the last decade
have significantly increased attention towards resource issues and its implications
for supply security and competitiveness. Global resource extraction has dramatically
grown: From 1970 to 2010, annual global extraction of materials tripled, growing
from, 22 billion to 70 billion tonnes, inter alia, driven by the rapid growth of emerg-
ing economies such as India and China (Ekins and Hughes, 2017). By categories,
non-metallic minerals used mainly in the construction sector experienced the fastest
growth (Ekins and Hughes, 2017).
In Europe, Domestic Material Consumption (DMC)1, which includes the four main
categories of fossil energy materials/carriers, non-metallic minerals, metal ores and
biomass for EU 28 peaked in 2007 with over 8 billion tonnes and has slightly re-
duced since then to around 6.6 billion tonnes in 2016 (Fig. 1-1).
Fig. 1-1 Evolution of domestic material consumption (in billion tonnes), 20002014, EU(28).
Source: Eurostat, 2016.
It is important to note though that per capita consumption varies greatly among
MSs. While Italy, for example, is currently a modest consumer with around 7 t per
capita, Ireland consumes more than 3 times more with around 22 t per capita and
year (Eurostat, 2017b). Finland with 33.3 t per capita has the largest per capita do-
mestic consumption, as a result of the relevance of extraction industries in the coun-
try. The EU average still remains above world-average and high, with approximately
13 t per capita and year (2016) (Fig. 1-2).
As part of the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, a dashboard of indicators was devel-
oped to track the progress towards a more resource efficient Europe. The ‘RE score-
–––
1 DMC indicates the annual quantity of raw materials extracted from the domestic territory, plus material im-
ports minus exports. DMC does not include upstream hidden flows (materials that are extracted or moved, but
do not enter the economy) related to imports and exports of raw materials and products (Eurostat, 2017a).
0,000
1.000.000,000
2.000.000,000
3.000.000,000
4.000.000,000
5.000.000,000
6.000.000,000
7.000.000,000
8.000.000,000
9.000.000,000
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
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board’ covers the areas of materials, land, water and CO2, which all play a role in RE.
The headline indicator is resource productivity. Resource productivity refers to the
economic value extracted from resource consumption. It is calculated as the ratio be-
tween GDP and an indicator of material consumption, generally DMC.2 Resource
productivity in Europe, measured as above, has increased by 34% between 2000 and
2014. This increase is mainly associated to the decrease of DMC as a consequence of
the impact of the economic crisis in traditionally resource intensive sectors such as
construction and manufacturing. Another factor is the growing reliance on imported
fossil fuels and metals into the EU-28 which is not fully depicted by DMC figures
(EEA, 2016a), as it does not capture environmental implications of upstream activi-
ties.3
Fig. 1-2 Domestic material consumption per capita in tonnes EU(28). Source: Eurostat, 2017b.
Looking at the evolution of GDP and DMC, Fig. 1-3 below seems to suggest that most
EU MSs have experienced some sort of decoupling, either relative (when GDP grows
faster than resource consumption) or absolute (when DMC falls even though GDP is
on the increase). In fact, the EU-28 on average experienced absolute decoupling for
the period 20002014. This though needs to be treated with caution as here the
physical indicator used to calculate decoupling is DMC, which does not take into ac-
count the “hidden flows” of the imported goods, and therefore, does not include the
resource use associated with the outsourcing of material intensive sectors to third
countries (i.e. steel or clinker production).
According to a recent monitoring report (European Commission, 2015a), the EU
shows progress towards resource efficiency. However, in comparison to figures
–––
2 Raw Material Consumption aims to provide a more accurate picture of the impacts of resource consumption by
taking into account the “rucksacks” associated to imports, which are not considered in the DMC indicator. The-
re are, however, still data gaps for the calculation of resource productivity using RMC. It is not provided at
country level to date.
3 LCA approaches suggest that environmental burden of extraction activities and primary transformations re-
present a large share of the overall life-cycle impact (Mattila et al., 2010).
0
10
20
30
40
Belgium
Bulgaria
Czech Republic
Denmark
Germany (until 1990
Estonia
Ireland
Greece
Spain
France
Croatia
Italy
Cyprus
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Hungary
Malta
Netherlands
Austria
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Slovenia
Slovakia
Finland
Sweden
United Kingdom
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stressed by relevant authors concerning the necessary level of material consumption
in 2050 (i.e. a reduction of resource use of up to minus 80% of the current level), the
EU progress appears rather slow (Ekins et al., 2009; Dittrich et al., 2012; Bringezu,
2015).
Fig. 1-3 DMC and GDP average annual change rates in EU-28 and countries between 2000 and
2015. Source: Eurostat, 2016.
The concept of the circular economy is though much wider. It involves a systemic
change that encompasses innovation and technology systems but also policies, socie-
ty, business models and finance (European Commission, 2015a). The idea is to create
a regenerative system where products, components and materials are maintained at
their highest value for as long as possible and resources can be productively recov-
ered and reintegrated in the economy or provide nutrients to natural systems (Web-
ster, 2015). Benefits associated to new business models are indeed substantial. Meyer
(2011) estimated that resource efficiency improvements across different value chain
could provide raw material savings in the region of 1724% and costs savings of
around 630 million in Europe. Based on product-based modelling, EMF (2012)
suggested that boosting circular economy business models could increase EU GDP by
3.9% by 2030.
Achieving benefits is, however, not a straightforward process as resource efficient
behaviours and new business models are faced by a number of dynamic and interre-
lated barriers that form what has been referred to as the ‘web of constraints’ (Kemp
and Dijk, 2013). This paper aims to provide an overview of the key characteristics of
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the current legislative frameworks for resource efficiency at the EU and its MSs to
better understand the framework conditions as well as the structure of incentives and
institutional set up that define the play-level field for Resource Efficiency and CE in
Europe. The analysis also aims to unveil areas of conflict and inconsistency across
different policy areas and legislative levels. This is done looking at the inter-linked
levels of EUMSs. The paper has been structured as follows: Methodological notes are
summarised in the next Section 2. Section 3 discusses the role of policy frameworks.
Section 3.1 presents the analysis of the policy framework at the EU level, while Sec-
tion 3.2 presents the results of the analysis at the national level. Section 4 discusses
the interface EU-MSs and identifies key challenges and provides policy recommenda-
tions. Section 5 draws a conclusion.
2 Methodological notes
2.1 Definitions
Resource efficiency is an engineering term referring to the increase of resource pro-
ductivity or the reduction of resource intensity of the used metals, minerals, fuels,
water, land, timber, fertile soil, clean air and biodiversity (European Commission,
2011a, 2011b).4 In the policy context it is used in a wider sense encompassing ap-
proaches and initiatives that increase energy and material efficiency and help the
transition towards decoupling of resource use from economic development. A re-
source-efficient economy, which is understood as an economic system that is compe-
titive, inclusive and operates within the planetary boundaries (Rockström et al.,
2009), has become a vision of the EU (European Commission, 2011a, 2011b). The
concept of the circular economy is mainly a policy concept and has been defined as
an economy “where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained (…)
for as long as possible and the generation of waste is minimised” and is seen as an es-
sential contribution to “a sustainable, low carbon, resource efficient and competitive
economy” (European Commission, 2015b). The CE proposes the transition from li-
near systems to circular systems driven by new business models that exploit circular
loops and more efficient use of resources.
2.2 Analytical Framework
The main aim of this paper is to provide insights into the current policy landscape for
resource efficiency and the circular economy in Europe. The analysis departs from
the analysis of the overarching EU policy framework shaping resource policies and
then looks at a selection of policy frameworks in a representative sample of MSs. The
analysis also investigates the interaction between both levels and the constellation of
policies, institutions and actors that shape policy decision-making for resource effi-
ciency and circular economy in Europe and investigates inconsistencies and conflic-
ting goals across policy areas and levels. The analytical framework is loosely inspired
by the notion of the “web of constraints” (Kemp and Dijk, 2013), to allude to the dy-
–––
4 Resource productivity =GDP/resource use (in analogy to labour productivity) or resource intensity = resource
use/GDP (as the inverse of productivity)
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namic and simultaneous effects shaping the interplay between policy, policy imple-
mentation and institutional patterns that result in inefficient use of resources.
Fig. 2-1 Analytical Famework. Source: Authors’ elaboration.
The analytical framework designed, as depicted in Fig. 2-1, distinguishes three essen-
tial and interacting components: 1. The policy landscape for resource management
constituted by relevant policies and targets, the set-up of the programmes and the le-
gislation for resource efficiency, i.e. key programme and targets but also the sharing
of legal responsibilities and competencies between institutions, as well as the coordi-
nation among them; 2. The economic incentive system which is composed of market-
based instruments such as resource taxes and direct financial support but also im-
portantly by framework conditions defined by taxation and fiscal systems and sys-
tems of innovation; 3. Relevant actor constellations and institutional set-up influen-
cing and shaping policy making in Europe. The analysis looks at two key policy le-
vels: the EU and the MSs. The authors argue that it is essential to compare political
and institutional structures, actor constellations and paths at the supranational and
national level, including the interplay of both levels, in order to identify inertia fac-
tors and incentive structures that are potentially counteracting systemic or technolo-
gical leaps.
2.3 Data Sources
The analysis is based on a comprehensive review of policy documents and empirical
surveys in which the policy development is observed and discussed (EEA, 2011,
2016a, 2016b, EIO, 2013, 2016). Programmes, policy documents, legislative propo-
sal, Directives, targets and a comprehensive review of EU and selected MSs instituti-
onal set-up have been undertaken. The work builds on the review undertaken as part
of the project POLFREE (Policy option for a Resource-Efficient Economy) (Do-
menech et al., 2014, Bahn-Walkowiak et al., 2014).
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3 The Transition to a Resource Efficient Circular Economy:
Overview of Policy Frameworks
Previous analyses have shown that the economic development and the resource use
depends on a complex interplay between formal and informal institutions (North,
1990), environmental and economic policies (Bleischwitz et al., 2011; Ekins and
Speck, 2011) and systems of innovation (Kemp, 2012; EIO, 2013) . In the case of Eu-
rope, this complex system is also shaped by the distribution of competencies between
European supranational level and the national MSs level and the systems of negotia-
tion and actor constellations at both levels and the interplay between them.
3.1 EU policy landscape
This section provides an overview of the policy framework in Europe, identifying
overarching policies, targets and key instruments. It also points at potential conflicts
between policy areas and discusses the role of EU in shaping incentive structures.
3.1.1 EU Policy Framework for Resource Efficiency: Legal Basis and Key
Programmes
The protection of the environment is one key priority of EU law. Specific reference to
the protection of the environment was first introduced in the European Community
treaties by the Single European Act (1986), articles 130r and 130t and refined in the
Treaty of Maastricht (1992) and Amsterdam (1997) (Massai, 2012). The treaty of Lis-
bon (TEU and TFEU) refers to sustainable development as one of the objectives of
the EU (art 3(3) TEU) along with other principles such as economic growth and price
stability. Also, art 3(5) TEU refers to the role to be played by the EU in achieving a
“sustainable development of the earth”. Furthermore, a specific reference to
sustainable development is included in the general provision on the Union’s External
Action (art 21(2)d and f TEU), guiding the foreign policy and external action of the
EU.
The TFEU also indicates the guiding principles of EU environmental protection po-
licy and its objectives, and it includes a principle to ensure the “prudent and rational
utilization of resources”, which provides legal basis for the action of the EU in the
area of sustainable resource use and the circular economy. In fact, while progress in
other areas has been more fragmented and subjected to political cycles, environmen-
tal policy has demonstrated an ability to maintain steady growth both with regard to
coverage and ambition of existing policies (Jordan et al., 2005). The policy focus on
resource efficiency in the last years has been the necessary bridge to embed environ-
mental concerns into the core of the development strategy of the EU. The pre-
eminence of resource efficiency in the policy agenda was initially motivated by a
steady increase in resource prices in the period 2002-2011 but has then since associ-
ated with wider issues such as supply security and competitiveness.
The review of EU policies on resource efficiency though shows a somewhat ambi-
guous picture. On the one hand, the EU has today one of the most advanced policy
frameworks of the world in terms of environmental protection and specific action has
been detailed for resource efficiency (the Resource Efficiency Roadmap) and the cir-
cular economy with (the Circular Economy Action Plan). On the other hand, the re-
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source efficiency agenda has also fallen in the “joint-decision trap” (Scharpf, 1988),
favouring status quo and incremental policy over more radical, innovative policy ap-
proaches.
At this moment, the overarching vision and strategy for moving towards a resource
efficient circular economy is provided in the following key policy strategy documents:
! The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth;
! The flagship initiative on resource efficiency and the resource efficiency roadmap;
and
! The circular economy package.
All these initiatives have come to complement areas of traditional special interest of
the EU environmental policy such as waste management and energy efficiency.
The flagship initiative on resource efficiency has been operationalized through a
number of roadmaps and communications that tackled different dimensions of re-
source efficiency (see table 3-1).
Tab. 3-1 EU policy instruments and main purposes/targets
Roadmap / Policy instrument
Main Purpose / Target
Low-carbon economy 2050 roadmap
Possible pathways to reduce GHG emissions by 80-95% 1990 levels
by 2050
Improve energy security and promote sustainable growth and jobs.
Roadmap for a resource-efficient Europe
Increase resource productivity and decouple economic growth from
resource use and environmental impact
Energy roadmap 2050
Pathways towards a low-carbon and resource efficient energy system
European Transport plan
Increase mobility and further integrate transport networks while re-
ducing GHG emissions associated with transport
The resource efficiency roadmap provides orientation in terms of policy strategy to
transform Europe's economy into a resource efficient economy by 2050, defining mi-
lestones for 2020 to track the progress towards the 2050 vision and defining respon-
sibilities for the EC and MSs (see Table 3-2 below). Within the policy target of ‘trans-
forming the economy’ the areas of sustainable production, consumption, taxation,
innovation and research and ‘waste as a resource’ are tackled. These areas are meant
to pave the way for the transformation required by the Circular Economy Action
plan.
Milestones under ‘Waste as a resource’ and ‘taxation’ in Table 3-2 are closely interli-
ned with the policy process to the CE, which would be identified in the next section.
They set the basis for the necessary departure from the linear economy and existing
economic structures towards enabling the emergence of enabling CE policy approa-
ches. Although there is some evidence that progress towards those milestones have
been done at the EU level (Domenech et al., 2014), MSs progress has been more
fragmented and less well monitored (Bahn-Walkowiak et al., 2014).
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Tab. 3-2 “Transforming the economy” areas, milestones and responsibilities
MILESTONES
RESPONSIBILITIES
By 2020
Commission
Member States
" Appropriate price signals
and clear environmental
information of products
and services
" Minimum performance
standards for products
" GPP
" Common method for envi-
ronmental footprint
" Expand the scope of eco-
design directive to include
non-energy related prod-
ucts
" Incentivise companies
to measure and bench-
mark resource efficiency
" Help companies to
make best use of waste
" Support SMEs
" Revise REACH candi-
date list
" Market and policy incen-
tives to reward efficiency.
Companies can measure
and benchmark lifecycle
resource efficiency.
" Phase out EHS
" Shift taxation from labour
to environmental taxation
" Phasing out EHS and
monitor via European Se-
mester country specific
recommendations
" Exchange of best practic-
es on phasing out EHS
" Indicators on the use of
taxes on pollution and re-
sources
" Identify most significant
EHS
" Prepare plans and time-
tables for phasing out
EHS
" Shift taxation from la-
bour to environmental
impacts
" Review fiscal policies to
promote resource effi-
ciency
" Scientific breakthroughs
and sustained innovation
efforts in the understand-
ing, management of re-
sources and the reduce,
reuse, recycle and substi-
tution
" Innovation partnerships for
meeting resource efficien-
cy goals
" Joint technology initiatives
or PPP to promote re-
source efficiency
" Tackle barriers to eco-
innovation
" Research funding on key
resource efficiency areas
through Horizon 2020
" Focus of public research
funding on resource ef-
ficiency
" Waste per capita is in
absolute decline
" Recycling and reuse of
waste streams
" Full implementation of
waste legislation
" Eradication of illegal waste
shipments
" Energy recovery only to
non-recyclable materials
" Landfilling is phased out
" High quality recycling
" Stimulate secondary ma-
terials markets through
economic incentives and
end-of-waste criteria
" Review existing preven-
tion, reuse, recycling and
landfill diversion targets
(residual waste close to
zero)
" EPR schemes to ensure
minimum recycled con-
tent, durability and reusa-
bility criteria
" EU budget to give priority
to activities higher in the
waste hierarchy
" Exchange of best-practice
on collection and treat-
ment of waste
" Minimum targets in
waste prevention and
management strategies
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3.1.2 The EU Policy Framework for the Circular Economy
The circular economy package (European Commission, 2015b) is the other key pillar
of the strategies on resource efficiency that also originated from the Flagship Initia-
tive. Its journey has in itself been illustrative of the complex policy landscape of the
EU and its interactions with MSs and lobby groups in the policy-making process. The
European Commission, under its former President Barroso, adopted a Circular
Economy package in July 2014. The communication entitled "Towards a circular
economy: a zero waste programme for Europe" established a common and coherent
EU framework to promote the circular economy. The earmarks of this 2014 circular
economy package were:
! boosting recycling and preventing the loss of valuable materials;
! creating jobs and economic growth;
! showing how new business models, eco-design and industrial symbiosis can move
us towards zero-waste; and
! reducing greenhouse emissions and environmental impacts.
The package proposed an overall headline target for material productivity measured
as GDP relative to Raw Material consumption of 30% increase by 2030 and the set-
ting of more stringent targets for recycling of waste, including a 70% recycling target
for municipal waste, a 80% recycling rate for packaging waste by 2030, landfill bans
for recyclable materials by 2025 and the objective to virtually eliminate landfill by
2030.
The withdrawal of the package though was one of the first decisions of the new
Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker and with Frans Timmermans as First Vice-
President. The new Commission alleged that the withdrawal was motivated by the
heavy focus of the package on waste and did not reflect well differences in the pro-
duction structure across MSs. The withdrawal sparked a wave of support for the cir-
cular economy among forward thinking companies that believed that the circular
economy was the only way forward for European manufacturing. This led the com-
mission to rethink the package and commit to a more ambitious and country-specific
package by the end of 2015. The new package’s preparation was coordinated by First
Vice-President Frans Timmermans with other DG’s including growth, jobs and com-
petitiveness, Environment, Maritime affairs and fisheries and Internal market, in-
dustry, entrepreneurship and SMEs. The new package “Closing the Loop An EU
Action Plan for the Circular Economy” has a stronger focus on eco-innovation and
aims to cover the whole process from design to disposal and recovery/ recycling. The
new package includes among other key measures the review of the eco-design di-
rective to include measures to support the reparability, durability and recyclability in
product requirements, testing programmes under Horizon 2020 to tackle planned
obsolescence, requirements for dismantling, reusing and recycling of electric prod-
ucts, actions to promote green procurement, quality standards for secondary prod-
ucts, action towards including individual responsibility under Extended Producer
Responsibility schemes and targeted measures for a number of priority streams such
as plastics, food, critical raw materials, building and demolition, biomass and bio-
products.
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The package is accompanied by legislative proposals to review waste directives that
include provisions such as 65% EU recycling target for municipal waste by 2030, a
75% recycling of packaging waste by 2030, a landfill cap to 10% of total waste by
2030 and harmonization of definitions and calculation methods.
3.1.3 Key Instruments
In terms of instrumentation, the Waste Framework Directives and the Eco-Design
Directives are important pieces of legislation. Waste regulation combines in its foun-
dation the polluter pays principle (PPP), the principle of extended producer respon-
sibility (EPR), the waste hierarchy and life-cycle thinking to inform policy action in
the area of waste management and beyond (i.e. waste prevention). The newly pro-
posed targets in the circular economy package contribute to the shift from waste to
‘waste as a resource’ by boosting resource efficiency and maintaining products and
materials and products longer in the productive cycle. However, as will be discussed
later, large differences persist among MSs and the evidence of ‘high quality recycling’
is still weak (Domenech et al., 2014).
The Eco-Design Directive lays down an EU-wide legal framework for improving the
environmental performance of energy-using and energyrelated products through
eco-design. Eco-design has proven a highly effective instrument, with wide ac-
ceptance across a range of stakeholders including producers and consumers. Evi-
dence also suggests that the Directive has contributed not only to improve environ-
mental performance of products but has also yielded positive effects on competitive-
ness of EU industry (Dalhammar et al., 2014). Including additional requirements to
ensure the reparability, durability and recyclability of products can promote the em-
bedding of circularity principles in the product design phase. However, the instru-
ment has also been criticised for its limited coverage (Bundgaard et al., 2017) and
long process of development of guidelines by product category.
3.1.4 Relevant Side Policies at EU level: Synergies and Conflicts
Policy strategies directed towards resource efficiency and the circular economy are
part of a complex landscape of policies and instruments that serve a variety of pur-
poses such as growth, wellbeing, competitiveness and free internal market. Sitting
underneath these explicit policy objectives and co-existing with them there is a myri-
ad of power structures and lobby players that pursue specific interests that influence
the policy making process. The analysis of EU regulation has revealed a number of
cross-influences of EU directives and instruments (explicitly on resource efficiency or
not) operating in areas as varied as agriculture and food, transport or infrastructures.
While some of these policies operate in a synergistic nature (mutually reinforcing in-
centives towards RE), others pursue conflicting goals. Fig. 3-1 describes some of the-
se synergistic (in green) as well as conflicting (in red) interactions. For example,
GHG reduction positively correlates to renewable share, but increasing renewable
may have a negative impact on resource use and water availability and indirectly on
land use.
Increasing the recycling of waste, for instance, could in principle also reduce the
pressure on the consumption of primary raw materials and associated CO2 emissions
in Europe and upstream in exporting countries. There is though little understanding
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whether increasing levels of material recycling have contributed to substitute de-
mand for primary resources in Europe or elsewhere (Fellner et al., 2017).
Examples of conflicting relations are not difficult to find. For instance, EU Transport
policy is a key element in achieving the internal market and thus ensuring the free
movement of people and goods, however, transport has also important resource im-
plications as a source of environmental impacts such as air pollution, land use and
land fragmentation and material use. While the link between transport and air pollu-
tion has been the primary focus of sustainable transport policies at the EU level, less
attention has been given to the material and land use implications of transport poli-
cy. Little evidence and data exist regarding the direct and indirect use of land by
transport infrastructures in the EU and even less so on the materials required to
maintain and increase the transport stock. For example, a large amount of EU cohe-
sion funds (around 12%) was used in large road-based transport infrastructure pro-
jects that aim at increasing convergence between MSs, but led to increased use of
non-renewable resources for infrastructures and CO2 emissions in the long term
(Usubiaga et al., 2011).
Policies to ‘avoid and shift’ would significantly contribute to reducethe impact of
transport but would require ambitious policies that address not only alternative
transport modes and fuels but also the politically less attractive issue of overall re-
duction.
Fig. 3-1 Synergies and trade-offs across different dimensions of RE; Source: authors’ generated
(synergies in green, trade-offs in red)
Inconsistency happens not only across different policy realms, but also within one
area over time. Waste policy is illustrative of this. After years of investing heavily in
incineration (which resulted in an expensive incineration infrastructure) (Usubiaga
et al., 2011), EU shifted to strong promotion of recycling. Indeed, the roadmap and
circular economy package set as a target the limitation of incineration to nonrecycla-
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ble materials. In economic terms, this means a double investment in waste manage-
ment infrastructure, making it very expensive especially since payback periods of
waste management infrastructure tend to be long (Kemp et al., 2015). Landfill diver-
sion policies (the new CE package includes a binding target to limit landfilling of
municipal waste to a maximum of 10% of total waste) have led to increasing rates of
incineration of municipal solid waste (MSW) and to the construction of waste-to-
energy plants (Merrild et al., 2012). Investment costs of modern waste-to-energy
plants are generally supported by long-term contracts with municipalities that guar-
antee a certain volume of waste for a long period of time. This may lock existing
waste management practices in a certain technology path, increasing the costs of
switching to recycling and especially high quality recycling. Also, recycling tends to
work better through high-quality eco-design rather than through merely waste segre-
gation. Although an instrument of high potential, the process of setting eco-design
standards has demonstrated to be far from simple. Another of the conflicts highlight-
ed in the waste area is the ‘waste as resource’ rhetoric, which seems to be very popu-
lar among EU politicians and policymakers, but provides a partial fuzzy picture of the
practical reality of ‘waste as cost’ (Wilts et al., 2016).
3.1.5 Framework Conditions for RE and CE in Europe: System of Incentives and
Innovation
Framework conditions generally refer to those elements that define the level playing
field for economic actors. Those framework conditions shape the behaviour of eco-
nomic actors and what is considered feasible and viable and what is not. Two key ar-
eas defining framework conditions are fiscal and taxation systems and innovation
and R&D systems.
R&D activities have been recognised a core element of the policy shift towards a
more resource efficient, circular economy (European Commission, 2015a). The Eu-
rope 2020 strategy sets the target to increase combined public and private invest-
ments in R&D to 3% of GDP by 2020. Progress to this target though has been nega-
tively affected by the crisis and it seems unlikely that the target will be achieved. In
2014 it was 2.03% and has experienced limited progress since then. Forecasts predict
that it will rise to 2.1% by 2020. The Europe 2020 also provides guidelines for R&D
investment, identifying key strategic areas. The ecoinnovation scoreboard assesses
and compares eco-innovation performance across MSs. One of the key policy instru-
ments designed to steer R&D activity has been the ‘innovation union’ flagship initia-
tive, and the EU Eco-Innovation Action Plan derived from it. The plan addresses the
bottlenecks, challenges and opportunities of achieving environmental objectives
through innovation.
Taxation is another of the key areas to help transform incentive systems to work to-
wards rather than against resource efficiency. Green tax reforms in Europe have been
extensively studied (see, for example, (Ekins and Speck, 2011). Most modelling exer-
cises (Ekins et al., 2011; Ekins et al., 2012; EEA, 2016a) suggest that green tax re-
forms could deliver positive impacts. The EEA study calculated that applying ETR to
achieve the 20% target of GHG reduction would help to create more than 1 million
jobs with minor costs (0.04% of GDP). However, progress in this area at the EU level
is faced with substantial obstacles. EU has very limited competences in the area of
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taxation. Taxation lies generally within the competence of national MSs (see Section
3.2). The EU can only act where taxes pose a barrier to the internal market, under
Art. 113 TFEU and, even then, it has to act unanimously.
The limited impact of the Energy Tax Directive (Directive 2003/96/ EC) is illustra-
tive of these hurdles. The original of the Directive was to restructure and widen the
scope of the EU's minimum rate tax system for energy products (previously limited
to mineral oils), to all energy products including coal, natural gas and electricity. It
also seeks to reduce distortions of competition that originate from divergent tax rates
in MSs on energy products and promote energy efficiency and reduction of emis-
sions. Under the framework of the Directive, Member States are free to set their own
national rates above a minimum, which ‘should reflect the competitive position of the
different energy products and electricity’. The Directive states that ‘[i]t would be ad-
visable in this connection to base the calculation of these minimum levels as far as
possible on the energy content of the products. However, this method should not be
applied to motor fuels.’ However, in reality, rates are based on historical values in
Member States, rather than relative energy content, and motor fuels are explicitly ex-
cluded from this approach. In addition, over one hundred derogations were available
which allowed Member States to apply reduced rates or exemptions for specific poli-
cy purposes, although most of these expired at the end of 2006. The Directive, how-
ever, under Article 17 of the ETD, also leaves freedom to MSs to apply up to full tax
exemptions for energy products used for a number of purposes, such as heating and
agriculture or those regulated by special agreements, such as voluntary agreements
or tradable permits. Other specific processes and sectors, including international avi-
ation and shipping, and energy products used for combined heat and power (CHP)
generation are exempted. The limited practical impact of the Directive led the Com-
mission to propose a revision that better aligns with the current energy and climate
change targets. As it stands now, for example, there exists no incentive for the use of
renewables in place of fossil fuels, for both electricity and transport. Fuels used to
generate electricity are exempted, and electricity consumption is taxed at a flat min-
imum rate although other instruments such as the EU-ETS provide such incentive.
A perverse incentive exists in transport, as biodiesel is taxed at the same rate as die-
sel, despite lower energy content by volume. The proposal was seeking to differenti-
ate the energy content and CO2 emissions in the calculation of the minimum rates.
However, following unsuccessful negotiations between the Council and the MSs, the
Commission finally withdraw the proposal in 2015. As it stands, the Directive is una-
ble to contribute to the objectives of energy efficiency, reducing energy consumption
or shift to cleaner fuels.
Another key element of the policy framework with an impact on resource use is raw
material policies. While the traditional realm of resource efficiency and environmen-
tal policies has been the demand and output side, raw material policies rather focus
on the supply side and connect with the international dimension of resource extrac-
tion and consumption. In a largely globalised world, commodity markets are highly
volatile, distorted by national framework conditions and purchasing power providing
important limitations to the real impact of a EU policy on resource efficiency focused
solely on the internal market. EU Raw Material Initiative was published in 2008 and
reviewed in 2011 as an attempt to address the input side of resource policies. It is
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based on three key pillars: 1) ‘fair and sustainable supply of raw materials from glob-
al markets’; 2) sustainable supply of raw materials within the EU; and 3) Resource
efficiency and supply of ‘secondary raw materials’ through recycling (EC, 2008).
Commission actions for the first pillar have focused on action at the international
level to guarantee security of supply (through ‘Raw Materials Diplomacy’), enhance
transparency of financial payments in the mining sector and trade agreements with
strategic partners. The second pillar has been pursued through actions to promote
best practices, research and innovation and development of benchmarks. Finally, the
third pillar is directly linked to the resource efficiency and CE agenda.
3.1.6 Conclusion
The analysis thus shows a complex policy landscape. While resource efficiency and
the circular economy have grown in policy relevance, existing institutional structures
and limitations in the legislative power of the EU provide an overall picture with
competing targets and aspirations across different areas. A consistent resource effi-
ciency policy agenda needs to acknowledge potential trade-offs between different
dimensions of resource efficiency while also navigate through the boundaries of fea-
sibility of policy-making in a context of weakened EU institutions.
The analysis also reveals that most policy efforts have concentrated on the demand
side of resource efficiency with a view to increase resource efficiency and boost sec-
ondary market materials. Raw material policies are more complex and interlinked
with trade and development policies and highly depended on the international di-
mension. The strategy has developed targeted measures that tackle investment and
innovation in extractive industries in the EU, bilateral and multilateral trade agree-
ments with third countries and anti-dumping instruments, but further coordinated
action may be needed to make progress towards the three pillars of the strategy.
Against this background, MSs have a major role in setting the right policy and eco-
nomic incentives to progress towards resource efficiency. The next section reviews
national policy frameworks for resource efficiency, and provides an overall picture of
the national strategies, programmes and instruments in place for a selection of MSs.
3.2 National Policy Frameworks
Against the background of the guidelines developed and elaborated in the RE
Roadmap (as displayed in Table 3-2), the following section will provide a brief over-
view of the development at the national level and partly refer to country examples.
3.2.1 Programmes, Targets and Institutions
The terms resource efficiency and circular economy have also increasingly been tak-
en up at the national level. The milestones set by the Roadmap to a resource efficient
Europe (European Commission, 2011), the development of a resource efficiency
scoreboard (European Commission, 2016) and the objectives of the circular economy
package (European Commission, 2015b), have contributed to set clear impulses for
MSs to embed resource objectives in various national programmes, strategies and in-
struments. In fact, some national policies precede EU policies.
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Although the EU does not have a binding overarching target for resource efficiency,
nine countries have adopted targets for a national and economy-wide resource
productivity so far: Austria, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Por-
tugal and Slovenia.5 Most of these targets are based on gross domestic product in re-
lation to domestic material consumption (GDP/DMC), the EU's lead resource
productivity indicator (EEA, 2016a). However, absolute reduction targets do not ex-
ist to date while some consumption limits have been implemented at sectoral/ raw
material level, e.g. in Sweden and Estonia (Bahn-Walkowiak and Steger, 2015). How-
ever, the majority of the goals described in sustainability strategies or environmental
programmes for resource efficiency are rather qualitative, i.e. without timelines and
figures to be achieved.
From a barriers perspective, resource targets serve the society and economy by re-
moving orientation and information deficits and they can initiate or at least prepare
for a change in behaviour. Due to their controllability and higher liability, quantita-
tive targets are mostly considered more effective than qualitative targets that often
remain vague and tend to lead to inactivity. In addition, they can be operationalized
and reviewed in contrast to possibly soft, qualitative visions of the future (Bahn-
Walkowiak and Steger, 2015).
Only three countries have a dedicated strategy for resource efficiency so far (Austria,
Germany and Finland), although most countries address resource efficiency issues in
one or several other strategies and action plans (EEA, 2016a). From today's perspec-
tive, the relatively specified strategies of Germany and Austria are regarded as pio-
neering, with Austria being the only country indicating figures and timelines and
Germany seizing the roadmap ideas in terms of the sectoral approach. Unclear min-
isterial and often overlapping responsibilities in many countries, however, require
greater efforts in terms of the horizontal and vertical policy coherence (EEA, 2016a).
There is nevertheless evidence of a growing tendency to establish organizations in
many countries, such as efficiency agencies, but they are very heterogeneous at Eu-
ropean scale and usually focus narrowly on their area of jurisdiction, or a single sec-
tor or a resource type (EEA, 2011; EEA 2016b).
While such national strategies and their institutional embedding reduce orientation
and information deficits, a division of strategies into rather economically driven and
rather ecologically driven policies has emerged at European level and was partly re-
produced in some countries, such as Austria, Germany, Finland (Bahn-Walkowiak
and Steger, 2015; Bringezu et al., 2016) which bears the risk of conflicts of interests
between competing societal goals. This is also reflected in diverging responsibilities
between economic and environmental ministries for resource efficiency and raw ma-
terial access. Securing access to raw materials and addressing availability problems
as well as exploiting the business opportunities of eco-innovation in an efficiency
transition does entail further conflicting goals and interests, not only at a strategic
level but also at business level (Bleischwitz et al., 2012; Bastein et al., 2014).
–––
5 Examples of specific goals aiming at increasing resource productivity/ resource efficiency are: Austria stipula-
tes an increase of resource productivity by factor 4 (2012) and factor 10 (2050), resource efficiency increase of
50% and decrease of 20% resource use (2020). Germany strives for a doubling of raw material productivity
(1994-2020) while Hungary aims at minus 80% material intensity by 2050.
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3.2.2 Economic Incentive Systems and Further Relevant Policies
Different instruments can be combined to shift towards resource efficient, more cir-
cular economies. Economic incentive systems play a crucial role here by embedding
resource efficiency in the decision-making of economic actors. In this vein, more and
more policies aim to combine the dynamics of innovation with a targeted support for
eco-technologies. Those policies are assumed to have advantages in simultaneously
achieving economic objectives and increasing resource efficiency (EIO, 2016; COWI,
2011) by being a fusion point of innovation and environmental policies. Incentive in-
struments and programmes are widely established, and yet mainly focused, in the
field of energy. Policies aiming to influence resource use, e.g. market-based instru-
ments, innovation and technology driving instruments, and informational instru-
ments, show a broad range of more than 127 different environmental protection and
resource efficiency policies across the EU32 for SMEs, often tailor-made for national
needs (Ecorys, 2011). The recent EEA report (EEA, 2016a) even reports 166 examples
specified as good policy practices for resource efficiency.
The examination of European countries concerning direct financial incentives and
support programmes for resource efficiency in businesses shows many parallels, both
in terms of the measures implemented and the effects associated but there is no
single instrument that is applied in all European MS. Rather, different combinations
of resource efficiency innovation and technology driving market incentive programs
and information transfer in the form of targeted counselling prove to be quite effec-
tive (Hirschnitz-Garbers et al., 2015). This is particularly well documented in the
field of energy efficiency measures in the building sector. While support programmes
and financial incentives reduce information deficits and cognitive barriers and en-
courage learning processes with relatively good diffusion results in Europe, the over-
all picture is inconsistent and regionally fragmented.
Concerning market-incentives, it turns out that environmental taxes (e.g., Nether-
lands 8.9%, Hungary 6.8%, Germany 5%, Austria 5.5% with Serbia, Slovenia and
Croatia leading with more than 10%) are altogether not very high and the contribu-
tion of pollution/resource taxes to the overall tax revenues is in fact negligible. It is
mainly zero or below a 1% threshold of the overall tax revenue of European MS. In
the general statistics, 76% of the environmental tax revenues stem from energy, 20%
from transport, 4% from resources and they altogether come up to 6% of the total
European tax revenue, which relates to 2.5% of the European GDP (Eurostat, 2016).
From an environmental perspective, taxes are a step towards reflecting the full ex-
ternal and social costs of resource extraction and use (Wilts et al. 2015) but from an
economic perspective, taxes are always assessed as second-best policies due to their
inherent impreciseness (Söderholm, 2011). Despite a long-standing debate on green
tax reforms and the fact that the environmental effectiveness of eco-taxes is widely
recognised among scientists and policymakers and an active promotion by many of
the most influential international organisations such as the OECD, the UN, and also
the EU for many years, a large-scale implementation of resource taxes has not taken
place. Some authors argue that this mainly depends on the perceived high conflict
potential of potentially regressive tax effects policy makers avoid with regard to their
voters (Tews et al., 2003). In fact, resource taxes are confronted with a bundle of
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structural barriers: the market power of key sectors, the lack of information and cog-
nitive barriers on various levels (industries, consumers, politics), split incentives in
value chains, between companies, and different resources. Environmental taxes and
charges are therefore overwhelmingly implemented on a very selective basis; they
cannot be considered sending a clear-cut signals to economic actors and consumers
to date. In some countries, specific resources such as construction minerals are ad-
dressed by rather low tax rates (Withana et al., 2014). Hence, potentials are not ex-
ploited; the tax shifting aim (i.e. major shift from taxation of labour towards envi-
ronmental taxation) (European Commission, 2011, p. 11) is not tackled seriously.
3.2.3 Green R&D, Eco-innovation, and Phasing out Environmentally Harmful
Subsidies
The green R&D (Research & Development) budgets are comparatively low within to-
tal government R&D budgets in the European MS (e.g., Austria 4%, Germany 7.1%,
Hungary 3.8%, Netherlands 2.8% of total R&D) although some countries show larger
magnitudes such as Estonia 13.9% and Finland 12.5%. The green R&D expenditures
of businesses are unknown, i.e. there is no indicator as yet (Bahn-Walkowiak et al.,
2014). Green elements in recovery programmes have a range of 13-56% with a strik-
ing clustering of expenditures for transport and energy efficient buildings (Pollitt,
2011).
Eco-innovation efforts and outputs still have a niche role in the overall complex in-
novation policy. It is not transparent how specific sectors drive innovations via sec-
tor-specific modes and technological regimes, which innovations those are, how long
or short innovation cycles are and which pathways are determined like this. The last
Sectoral Innovation Watch report is from 2008 (Europe Innova 2008) and it under-
stands eco-innovation as a subsector. In a broader sense, the technological progress
path European countries follow is characterised by a constant output of new innova-
tive products and services that do not distinguish between environmental and non-
environmental innovations for the time being. This is drastically being reflected in
the budgeting for eco-innovation in recovery, R&D efforts and innovation policies,
pointing to a fundamental “mislabelling of sustainability as purely environmental
(Sustainable Development Commission UK, 2011).
Another significant debate in the context of resource efficiency focuses on the reduc-
tion of subsidies contributing to pollution (Wilts et al., 2015). Subsidies are often as-
sociated with environmental disadvantages; many of them are “resource-relevant”
(Münch and Jacob, 2014). A useful definition widely used draws on the OECD term
environmentally harmful subsidies as “a result of a government action that confers
an advantage on consumers or producers, in order to supplement their income or
lower their costs, but in doing so, discriminates against sound environmental prac-
tices” (OECD, 2005). IEEP indicates that the definition refers to “action” only. But
“In some cases non-action, e.g. not applying road pricing to cover costs of roads, not
applying VAT on food or excise taxes on certain fuels, or not internalising externali-
ties, leads to prices not reflecting environmental and social costs and hence creates
implicit subsidies” (IEEP et al., 2012).
In contrast to the rather fragmented picture of environmental taxation, there is a re-
markable inter EU homogeneity of subsidies in resource-intensive sectors, for exam-
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ple in the transport sector (according to Roadmap transport is a key sector and the
only sector without any decoupling signs), such as commuter compensations, com-
pany cars privileges, no road pricing, tax cuts for agricultural vehicles, unfavourable
taxation of competing modes of transport, etc. And there is altogether a low activity
in the phasing out of national environmentally harmful subsidies; the countries in-
spected show rudimentary or even no activities (Bahn-Walkowiak et al., 2014).
Summarizing the above, the following figure (Fig. 3-2) shows governance patterns of
resource efficiency policies with respect to Roadmap requirements of four example
countries. Countries are assessed according to their fulfilment of the criteria indicat-
ed below ranging from 0 for no activities to 4 for high degree of activities. The results
of the investigation of the three main fields institutional set-up (raw material initia-
tives, resource efficiency programme, coordination of programmes), incentives (envi-
ronmental taxes, resource taxes, direct financial support, support for SMEs via con-
sultancy) and side policies (green elements in economic recovery programmes, green
elements in innovation policies, activities for the phase out of environmentally harm-
ful subsidies (EHS) in the areas meat and cars) are represented in so-called spider
diagrams, where the degree of fulfilment corresponds to the visual representation in
the form of a web, i.e. the larger the web, the better the various criteria are fulfilled.
This visual presentation allows for a comparative overview of the different policy ar-
eas and their characteristics which will be briefly described in the next section.
Fig. 3-2 Policy frameworks of resource efficiency policies with respect to Roadmap requirements
of four example countries; Source: Bahn-Walkowiak et. al., 2014.
In terms of resource efficiency agendas/ action plans, Austria and Germany are lead-
ing but have a focus in the field of financial incentives and support programmes for
industry. At the same time, aspects like the phasing out of EHS or shifting labour
taxation to resource taxation are weakly or not at all pronounced, as both countries
raise no resources taxes apart from energy taxes and water charges. Other focal
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points lie in the field of innovation policy, which is good to very good pronounced.
There are also no resource taxes in Hungary and Netherlands, but the Netherlands
are leading in the context of other environmental taxes. With view to eco-innovation
and green components of innovation policies, activities are mentionable in Austria,
Germany and the Netherlands but rather low in Hungary. The public R&D budgets
for energy and the environment are highest in Germany and less than half of that in
Hungary. As regards EHS, the Netherlands has developed first activities regarding
the phasing out of, for example, tax deductions for commuters. Hungary stands out
with raising the standard value added tax rate on meat. There are no such activities
to be noted in Austria and Germany. The Netherlands shows absolute decoupling
and the lowest per-capita resource consumption of the country sample but it has
hardly launched any activities on the institutional side such as the development of
resource efficiency action plans or the corresponding advisory institutions. Overall,
Hungary is ranging at a much lower efficiency (i.e. resource productivity) level, but,
at the same time, shows a comparatively low per capita consumption of resources
and an absolute decoupling in terms of the average annual growth rates in DMC and
GDP (2000-2015). This suggests that Hungary (still) has more frugal production and
consumption patterns.
The resource efficiency agenda of the Roadmap took steps towards a more input ori-
ented approach by introducing the lead indicator of resource productivity and envi-
sioning that “Economic growth and wellbeing is decoupled from resource inputs and
come primarily from increases in the value of products and associated services” (Eu-
ropean Commission, 2011). Meanwhile, many countries refer to the EU lead indica-
tor without having an adequate indicator at the national scale implemented. It is
worth to note that most countries do not relate to a potential reduction of material
input. By and large, most countries refer to resource policies as an efficiency issue,
not an issue of reducing the absolute input. In contrast to this, the circular economy
and the closing of the loops will require significant extensions of value chains and life
cycles.
However, as regards waste, the main regulation at national and European scale aims
to apply the waste hierarchy although there are no targets for the prevention or the
reuse of waste in the European regulations including the newly released Circular
Economy Package. Most countries have a focus on the recycling of materials, some
on the recovery of energy from waste, very few on the exploitation of secondary re-
sources. Present waste management is still clearly output oriented (EEA 2016a;
Bahn-Walkowiak et al. 2014; EEA 2011).
Summarizing the above, the MS analysis reveals a clear movement towards establish-
ing programmes and institutions but depicts large untapped potentials as regards
eco-innovation, related investments, environmental taxation, and phasing out of en-
vironmentally harmful subsidies in resource-intensive sectors. The different institu-
tional set-ups in the countries as well as the diversity in policy choices and prefer-
ences further shows a lack of ambitious goals and points to a general uncertainty
what a focused and targeted transformation to a substantially improved resource
management could mean. The role of the national key sectors (which are often re-
source intensive sectors) and their quantitative and qualitative contribution to path
dependencies is widely not transparent and unexplored.
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4 The EU-MSs Interface of RE: Processes, Gaps and Actor
Constellations
Building on analysis above describing overall policy framework for RE and CE at the
EU and MSs level, this section provides some insights on the interface between EU
and MSs to understand how EU-MSs interaction shape policy processes for RE and
CE in Europe. It also adds some reflections on the overall framework conditions for
RE in Europe pointing to policy recommendations.
4.1 Policy Processes and Actor Constellations
The rapid ascension of the resource efficiency agenda in EU policy has run in parallel
with the development of national strategies. As it occurs in other areas of EU policy
making, regulatory policy making at the EU has a “reciprocal, two-level character
(Liefferink and Andersen, 2005). On the one hand, policy making is highly influ-
enced by MSs and, on the other hand, the EU policy framework has a direct influence
in the national policy-making processes, because of its legal capacity to impose tar-
gets and regulations at the national level. The interface between EU and national pol-
icy making has been the object of substantial academic interest (see, for example,
(Weale, 1996; Selin and VanDeveer, 2015) although there is limited research that
specifically addresses how the EU-national level interface and dynamics have influ-
enced and played a role in the definition of the resource efficiency agenda. In line
with the notion of the web of constraints, policy making is a complex process where
policy priorities and policy instruments are negotiated with a number of different ac-
tors that hold different and sometime conflicting sets of values, interests and practic-
es. This contributes to explain the political difficulties to advance in the resource effi-
ciency agenda when trade-offs are to be made. Also concerns have been raised re-
cently about the capacity of the EU to lead the resource efficiency circular economy
transition in a context of weakened institutions and rise of Eurosceptic fractions in
the parliament (Ekins et al., 2015).
An example of a win-win policy that could significantly contribute to increase re-
source efficiency such as the removal of environmental harmful subsidies can be ex-
tremely difficult to implement in practice, given power distribution and lobbying of
relevant national actors. Complexities of the policy making process at the EU level is
also revealed in the recent review of waste policy. Environmental regulation is sub-
jected to the ordinary legislative process. The process increases the opportunity to
input the legislative process by EU institutions, namely the Council, the Committee
and the Parliament but also increases the chances of opportunistic behaviour and ve-
to players. Negotiation of the legislation can drastically affect the scope and ambition
of a piece of regulation. In the environmental area, negotiations have been tradition-
ally led by environmental leading countries but the enlargement of the Union has in-
creased dynamics of leader-laggard, leading to not always optimal solutions. Lieffer-
ink and Andersen (2005) propose a classification of strategies that leading MSs may
adopt to try to influence environmental policy. This classification categorises strate-
gies according to two variables: whether the MSs act as a direct or indirect pusher,
and whether its forerunner role is purposeful or incremental. For example, countries
with a long tradition of environmental regulation such as Denmark or Germany, may
try to exert a push towards more stringent environmental regulation and try to align
Transition towards a resource efficient circular economy in Europe Domenech & Bahn-Walkowiak 2019
Wuppertal Institut | 27
with other countries or commission experts to push EU regulatory standards. Alt-
hough it could be said that the EU has generally contributed to more stringent envi-
ronmental standards across Europe, it may, in some cases, have restricted the adop-
tion of more ambitious policies when these were perceived as having a negative effect
on the functioning of the internal market, such as in adopting higher taxes for fuels
(Liefferink and Andersen, 2005).
The negotiation of the circular economy package is also illustrative of this complex
policy-making landscape. The initial withdrawal of the package was supported by the
conservative lobby of Business Europe under the premise that waste regulation
would have a negative impact on business competitiveness. This traditional vision
overlooked potential opportunities linked to increasing the efficiency with which re-
sources are used and the circularity of materials, especially in an import dependent
region such as Europe. The lack of support to the package by some MSs such as Ger-
many or Denmark, which generally see themselves at the forefront of environmental
policy making in the EU, for its excessive focus on waste, was more unexpected and
reveals the complexity of EU led processes in an era marked by weakened institu-
tions. Despite this difficult beginning, the new package may have emerged stronger
as it has pervaded the boundaries of traditional environmental policy making to in-
clude growth, entrepreneurship and internal market but it leaves questions open
with regard to its compatibility and inevitable connection to the RE Roadmap.
As to the interaction of the EU and MS level, one common trait is the focus of RE pol-
icy agenda on the output side, with little consideration of input targets and measures
to prevent and reduce consumption of resources in the first place. Addressing the in-
put side even by non-binding targets has proven difficult at both levels, limiting the
scope of RE and its effectiveness in the long term.
4.2 Framework Conditions for RE/CE in Europe
The overview of EU and MSs policy framework for RE and CE have shown a so-
mewhat fragmented picture. Although policy programmes towards RE and CE have
been introduced at the EU and in a number of MSs, conflicting targets and objectives
indicate insufficient integration between RE / CE policies and other relevant econo-
mic policies such as trade, transport or taxation. Progress towards RE is not always
well monitored and the interface between EU-MSs shows a complex interaction
among national actors and EU institutions.
A key feature are fiscal and tax systems, where the EU competences are limited and
where attempts to introduce changes have been strongly contested by MSs.6 Taxation
systems of the MSs have continued to set incentives for natural resource wastage and
shortage of employment (EEA, 2016b; von Weizsäcker et al., 2014). The overall share
of public revenues generated by resource taxes in Europe is extremely low. Only 4%
of the overall environmental taxes are collected from pollution and resources (EEA,
–––
6 An example of this is in the area of energy taxes. In 2011 the EC prepared a proposal to modernise energy taxa-
tion and better align it with environmental and energy goals. The key feature of the proposal was to have a tax
that would split into two components to better reflect CO2 emissions and energy content. The proposal was vo-
ted by the parliament in 2012, but MSs opposed the changes leading to its withdrawn by the Commission in
2015.
Transition towards a resource efficient circular economy in Europe Domenech & Bahn-Walkowiak 2019
28 | Wuppertal Institut
2016b) and very different among the European MS states. They create weak incenti-
ves for consumers and businesses to save resources aside the volatile behaviour of
commodity markets.7
Aside from general framework conditions, policy frameworks also importantly in-
fluence other areas of policy such as innovation, manufacturing, infrastructures or
housing with direct and indirect effects on resource consumption (Bahn-Walkowiak
et al., 2014). An example of this are the conflicts highlighted in Section 3.1.3 with re-
gards to transport policy, where attempts to strengthening internal market may have
a negative impact on resource efficiency.
The analysis also has revealed that foreign resource policies are crucial for the securi-
ty dimension of raw materials, exploration activities and access to raw materials and
while these mainly lie at the level of the national state, pointing to a potential role for
the EU to work on a harmonised framework conditions to address the international
dimension of raw material policy (Bringezu et al., 2016; Bleischwitz et al., 2012).
5 Conclusions
The review of policies in Europe on resource efficiency gave a number of interesting
insights. The EU Roadmap has evolved and induced a strong dynamic in the resource
efficiency policy area in recent years through setting aspirational objectives and en-
couraging innovation and learning effects, without leading to direct reduction effects
so far. Resource efficiency has acquired policy pre-eminence through its inclusion as
one of the key pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy, though its impact on national pol-
icy frameworks is still inconsistent and, in many cases, weak. The practical effects on
resource efficiency are highly dependent on the choice of national instruments and
priorities with regard to resource-intensive sectors, with lie mostly outside the legis-
lative competence areas of the EU. A much more consistent and coordinated use of
existing structures, institutions and potentials and an integration of more modest
life-styles and economies is required. In general, the analysis suggests that policy
binding objectives still largely concentrate on the output side of resource flows (i.e.
emissions, waste) while the input side is either completely overlooked or addressed
through aspirational, non-mandatory targets, scattered across policy documents. Ab-
solute decoupling of resource use from economic growth is part of the vision drawn
by the EU resource efficiency roadmap but has not been addressed directly by specif-
ic policy instruments or dedicated strategies at the EU level. At the national level, on-
ly a limited group has set targets for a national and economy-wide resource produc-
tivity so far and few countries have a dedicated resource efficiency or circular econo-
my strategy.
The vision of the EU roadmap has pervaded national laws and activities contributing
to advance large steps forward but was recently challenged by the introduction of the
CE package that does not directly continue the Roadmap’s milestone approach in the
–––
7 In fact, the policy interest in the circular economy was partly motivated by the steep increase in prices of re-
sources in the first decade of the XXI century, but this motivation has become more fragile now that prices of
commodity prices have returned to low levels. Aspects such as security supply, EU import dependency, volatili-
ty and specific groups of critical raw materials though have contributed to keep momentum of the shift towards
circular models.
Transition towards a resource efficient circular economy in Europe Domenech & Bahn-Walkowiak 2019
Wuppertal Institut | 29
areas beyond the waste issues. While the roadmap is a comprehensive visioning exer-
cise that tackles all key areas, the circular economy package is limited in its scope and
weak in terms of instrumentation (no hard-binding objectives apart from those on
waste; measures very much rely on adaptation of existing instruments, e.g. eco de-
sign, rather than other economic instruments). Significant advances in resource effi-
ciency have to be based on a successful interplay and interaction of several factors in
the political realm such as congruent strategies and targets, coherent institutional ar-
rangements and policy systems and distinct and consistent incentive systems and
relevant side policies which are credible and aspirational for actors and stakeholders
(Rogge and Reichardt, 2015; Wilts et al., 2015).
The restraint in the area of taxation is striking. It is obvious that taxes are used as el-
ements for competition, so that national states flee the risk of competitive disad-
vantages through higher taxation on resources. But a policy strategy that relies main-
ly on the output side of the material and energy cycles is unlikely to bring the trans-
formative change needed for a truly resource efficient economy that operates within
the carrying capacity of ecosystems (or safe operating space, Rockström et al., 2009).
Unless there are significant reductions in the input side through a substantial in-
crease of energy and resource efficiency and the limitation of resource use (e.g. a fac-
tor 4 or factor 10), environmental problems are unlikely to be resolved but aggravat-
ed due to cumulative effects and ecosystem thresholds. Progress in recycling and re-
use of materials are certainly in the right direction to increase the circularity of the
system and work towards closing the loops of production and consumption processes
by providing alternative sources of resources to maintain the actual physical stock of
societies, but these measures are clearly insufficient if they just supplement rather
than substitute primary material consumption (like is the case, for example, in the
construction and the food sector). It is also generally true that increasing circularity
would not only yield benefits in material recovery but also in energy savings as re-
processed materials are expected to require less energy than primary materials.
However, energy implications of recycling need to be carefully considered to under-
stand the energy implications of increasing circularity.
The analysis of the EU policy framework and national policies on resource efficiency
has revealed a complex policy picture made up of policy strategies, targets and in-
struments that do not always align across different dimensions of resource efficiency
or sectors of activity. The web of constraints metaphor proposed moves beyond this
perspective and takes an integrative view that accounts for the constraints acting on
policy choices and policy processes. Policy choices in the EU are subject to specific
mechanisms and political influences. The negotiation of policies at the EU level has
been largely influenced by the post-Nice procedural and voting changes and the dy-
namics of leaders-laggards in the environmental arena (Liefferink and Andersen,
2005; Jordan et al., 2005). The enlargement of the EU to Central and Eastern Euro-
pean countries with weak environmental frameworks has strengthened the leader-
laggard dynamics and increased national divergences in the adoption and implemen-
tation of the common EU legislative frameworks, which has also had an effect on re-
source efficiency and the circular economy, where large differences still persist not
only in terms of performance but also in terms of the prevailing policy frameworks.
Some may argue that the widening of the gap between best performing and worst
Transition towards a resource efficient circular economy in Europe Domenech & Bahn-Walkowiak 2019
30 | Wuppertal Institut
performing MS could indeed provide incentives for slow movers or worst performing
MS to significantly improve their national strategies while providing leaders with
some pioneer advantages. In this sense, a web of constraints may develop into a
‘web-of-drivers’ if some changes occur simultaneously and a window of opportunity
opens for the introduction of far-reaching policies. However, one may also argue that
the different resource management approaches in the countries as well as the diversi-
ty in policy choices reveals a lack of orientation and uncertainty in the general trans-
formation to a resource efficient and circular economy. Indeed, the web of con-
straints is strongly shaped by different interactively linked governance regimes, not
at least with regard to taxation, infrastructural and innovation pathways. Large chal-
lenges lie in a more coherent guidance at European level and the coordination of
stakeholder and industrial interests at national level. Europe could take the lead (as
was done with EU Roadmap) but needs to be more specific and stable about the di-
rections and areas of action.
It seems advisable to much better interlock circular economy and resource efficiency
policies and clarify their mutual relationship in order to avoid the risk of a dilution of
the concepts and encouragement of a path of least resistance strategy as long as there
is no clear target orientation and definitions of the way to goal attainment as such.
Acknowledgments: The paper is based on the results of a project named “Policy
Options for a Resource Efficient EconomyPOLFREE”. This project has received
funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological
development and demonstration under grant agreement No. 308371. We also want
to thank two anonymous reviewers for their instructive and helpful remarks.
Transition towards a resource efficient circular economy in Europe Domenech & Bahn-Walkowiak 2019
Wuppertal Institut | 31
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