I want to welcome all of you to this conference, I cannot tell you how important this is for us. This for me is one of the defining moments in the development of an agenda which I believe is essential for our economy, for jobs in the future, for our environment - for sustainability on all levels: economic, social and environmental.
I passionately believe in the opportunities of the circular economy, for many reasons. But the main reason is this: everyone who looks at the structure of our economy, the structure of our society even, will see that the future is not in low-wage production, that the future is not in making things with finite components. The future is providing services to our citizens in a long-term process. Services that then materialize in products, instead of the other way around, and products that are used and re-used time and time again, so that you reduce the use of raw materials and don't deplete the earth's natural resources. I think this is the economic concept that by now has been embraced, by many enterprises across the world.
Here, surprisingly enough, it is business that leads. Business is often better at this than politicians because they take a long-term perspective. To survive in democratic politics, the long-term perspective is sometimes limited to the next election. But to run a business and for your business to survive, your time horizon is easily 20 years.
I would like to invite everyone to take that longer-term perspective – and then the only sustainable answer, and I mean sustainable in all the possible meanings of the word, to the challenge ahead is a transition to the circular economy.
The opportunities for Europe are huge. We are the best connected society in the world. On average, we have the best purchasing power in the world. We have on average the best education in the world. We also have the smallest income gaps in the world. And this gives us a great point of departure to link all elements of society to make this transition possible.
Now what is the problem? The problem is not analysing where we need to be. The problem is not analysing where we are. The problem is to define how we get from where we are to where we want to be. And that is why your expertise and knowledge is essential for us to get it right when we draft our policy plans in the next months.
How do we help societies, enterprises, NGOs, citizens, to make this transition to the circular economy? Explaining the concept and getting people on board is not very difficult. But understanding what the stepping stones are to get there is the challenge. Europe should lead. In the European Commission, my colleagues, each within their sectors, like Commissioner Vella, Commissioner Bieńkowska and Vice-President Katainen, are committed to work on this common project.
Again, my starting point for all of this is not because it is just the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do. It is the only thing that makes economic sense in the long-term for the structure of the European economy. So it is much more fundamental than just doing the right thing for the environment. It is a choice for an economic model that can be profitable for Europe in the long run.
While the political cycle is often shorter than the economic cycle and politicians can only survive if people continue to vote for them, we need to get the long-term perspective on board even if the benefits might not always be seen in the short run. Together we can take the necessary steps to a brighter future based on an economy that will not poison our environment, that will not deplete our natural resources, and that will have a profitable basis which without competing on wage-costs nor on the quality of the workplace or quality of life. That is what I believe in.
Let's not make the circular concept smaller than it is. This is not just about what we do with waste. Waste management is very important. Trash can be turned into cash and it is already happening in many Member States. This is the basis but it is only part of what we need to do. We need a more holistic approach.
Having a holistic view is sometimes an excuse for not doing anything concrete. But I want to give you my personal commitment that his Commission will take concrete actions in the framework of this holistic view. We will come up with a plan that bites, that has concrete measures, that really looks at the full circle of the circular economy. But we can only do this successfully, if we can get the best and brightest ideas. So I want to thank you in advance for your contributions. They matter to us so please see the European Commission as your partner in this transformation that is essential for the future of our planet and for the future of our children and grandchildren.
Thank you very much.