Madame speaker, Madam chairperson, Minister Kamp, Maroš, honourable members, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Thank you for this opportunity to address you on a subject I feel very passionate about.

Before joining the Commission I was a Member of the Malta Parliament for 38 years. I am a parliamentarian at heart. I have a deep understanding of your role, and I know how much we need your support to make EU policy truly effective. It's your task to implement it, and your task to make it understood.

So I am very grateful to the presidency for this invitation to Vice-President Šefčovič and myself. I take this double invitation to be a very good sign. You have obviously understood that the future of energy is also the future of the environment. We cannot have sustainable energy unless we also include climate and environment in those policies.

My thanks to Maroš for those illuminating words about Energy Union, a file I watch very closely. I'll be covering some of the same ground, but from a slightly different angle.

I want to begin with a few words on the circular economy package adopted by the Commission in December last year, with legislative proposals on waste, and an Action Plan designed to push Europe towards great sustainability. Above all, I want to stress the opportunities it contains.

The opportunities to change the bigger picture including the tangible, opportunities for investment, innovation, and job creation.

I am sure you understand that the circular economy is an environmental necessity. It's a sure route to lower emissions, and to a more sustainable energy system. But it's also smart economics. In a global economy, Europe cannot compete on wage costs. We do not have the wealth of natural resources enjoyed by other parts of the world. But we are rich in other ways – especially when it comes to skills and innovation.

Demand for the sort of innovation and know-how that are coming out of places like Leeuwarden and Waginingen, here in the Netherlands, is bound to grow. Other economies across the world will want to join in. This will create export opportunities for those companies who move and act first.

And this will also help create employment. Europe has real strengths in eco-industries and eco-innovation. During the recession years, employment in these areas continued to increase, from 3 to 4.2 million jobs.

We hold a third of a global market, which is worth a trillion euros and is expected to double by 2020. Companies like Philips are global leaders in the circular economy, adapting to the changing picture of supply and demand, trying out new business models, and building the constraints of the future into their projects today.

Our future lies in making the most of these assets. This will also allow us to continue as a market‑leader for green technologies. We have many success stories in these areas, and they need to be celebrated.

A circular economy means a switch towards products and processes that are designed to be more durable and more resource-efficient. The circular economy package contains a broad selection of supporting measures to help Europe achieve that transition in numerous areas.

We have already introduced new measures on fertilisers, making it easier for manufacturers to re-use raw materials that were previously disposed of as waste, and opening up the single market to organic and waste-based fertilisers.

Over the coming months and years, as detailed in the Action Plan, there will be more initiatives in other areas such as Eco-design, food waste, plastics, water re-use, chemicals, green public procurement, consumption, and innovation.

We are not talking only about innovative ways of producing but also of consuming

Rethinking our economic model brings numerous advantages.

Adopting more resource‑efficient practices such as waste prevention, Eco-design, re‑use and similar measures could bring net savings of €600 billion. That is nearly 8 % of the annual turnover for businesses in the EU. Equally relevant for our discussions today, these steps will also reduce the EU's greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4 % every year.

This is not wishful thinking by the Commission. The Ellen MacArthur foundation – probably the single most influential body that is currently working on the circular economy – sees even greater advantages, with a potential boost of EU GDP by almost 4 %.

We will get there, of in many incremental steps. You may be familiar with the example of aluminium, where recycling uses less than 10 % of the energy required for virgin production.

When it comes to paper, plastics, construction materials, glass, and other metals, better recycling offers less dramatic, but still significant energy savings and environmental benefits. My services are working to identify these opportunities, and ways to scale them up. 

As Maroš noted, these steps are part of the commitments we announced in the Energy Union Strategy. The aim is to ensure that energy efficiency policies, resource efficiency policies and policies to boost the circular economy are all pulling the economy in the same direction.

One area with considerable potential is "waste to energy".

The first objective of the circular economy package is to avoid waste in the first place. But you can never eliminate it all, and you can never recycle it all of it. However you can still gain by recovering energy from the non-recyclable materials.

So the Commission is looking to adopt a Communication on Waste-to-Energy by the end of this year. This will address how waste to energy can be optimised without compromising higher re‑use and recycling rates and respecting the principles of the EU waste hierarchy.

It's too early to go into details, but it's clear that this is an area with a considerable growth potential. When we reduce landfilling, increase separate collection and strive for higher recycling rates, we can probably expect to send more than 20 % of combustible and non-recyclable municipal waste to the Waste to Energy processes.

Our question today is how to speed up the cost-effective transition towards a clean, competitive and secure energy future. And here, both the circular economy and ocean energy play an important role. Especially if in our cost-efficiency analysis we structure in the climate change and the environmental costs as well.

The circular economy isn't just about our activities on land. It also has a major maritime component. As the European Commissioner for Environment and Maritime Affairs, the evidence I see shows that we have everything to gain from tackling these issues together.

By increasing resource efficiency and decreasing waste, we protect our oceans. By reducing food waste, we reduce the pressure on fish stocks. By cutting carbon emissions we keep our oceans cool. By cutting plastic waste, we reduce marine litter.

Healthy seas can offer considerable economic rewards. The maritime economy accounts for 4% of EU GDP, and 5 million people depend on it for their livelihood. And it's particularly relevant here in the Netherlands.

Every time I come here – and I come here quite a lot – I am struck by the enormous potential. The Dutch blue economy is worth more than €50 billion, almost 3.5 % of Dutch GDP. And more than 250 000 people work in these sectors.

New maritime activities like renewables and biotechnology have the potential to boost future growth. Marine renewables are booming here, and I have seen the results at first hand. These sectors generate potential for high quality local employment. Let's not forget that the EU already has a global lead in the Ocean Energy sector. Some 45 % of wave energy companies and 50 % of tidal energy companies are based in Europe.

Yes ocean energy is an important component of our secure energy future.

It is a fact that there can be no proper innovation without the proper investment. If we want to deliver major changes to the economy, we need to lend a hand. EU funds can help.

We need to start by reinforcing circular economy-related innovation, and attracting more investors. Because most of the efforts will need to come from the private sector. Some innovative companies may be small, and some may be venturing into new business models. In other words, some circular economy investments will be perceived as risky. 

This is where the EU comes in. We are proposing a range of support measures to ensure they remain attractive. A major €650 million initiative has been launched under Horizon2020 on 'Industry 2020 in the circular economy'. 

We are also encouraging applications to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) which can help raise private finance, particularly in areas where commercial banking is still hesitant to get involved.

The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI)  offers opportunities for major maritime projects, and it can reduce the risk for investors in activities such as ports or renewable energy.

In all this, we cannot underestimate the role of national parliaments. A successful transition will depend on broad support. Public authorities need to be mobilised at all levels. As Parliamentarians, you have a crucial role to play. You can put in place frameworks to reinforce effective implementation of the package. Your reactions, and the opinions we received after adoption, are a great help. 

But I think we could still do more together. In many ways, I'm sure. I will finish by concentrating on three  ways in particular.

The first is scaling up good examples. You can ask your colleagues in regional and local authorities to look for "the best in class" within your national borders, and to replicate and repeat these solutions where possible. This is particularly important for long-term infrastructure investment.

Secondly, you can work with businesses, and help them draw down European funding. They need your expertise to help the promise of European funding become a reality. 

And finally, as parliamentarians, you can look closely at the economic and fiscal incentives suggested in the package. Taxes on labour are not always the best way forward – environmental taxes, for example, can even lead to higher employment. Isn't it time we dared to be different?

Ladies and gentlemen, designing successful transitions requires a coordinated approach. The Commission is here to help.

I have had useful and fruitful exchanges in a number of national parliaments, presenting the Circular Economy package in detail. I will to continue to do so. To get feedback, comments, suggestions. All this leads to better co-operation between us.

Cooperation on common goals is the best way to fulfil our role towards future generations. It will help us look at our collective economic future with higher hopes and higher ambitions. We can, and we will achieve our objective, if we are all working in the same direction.

Thank you.


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