By keeping materials in the economy through recycling, we will create more jobs and will be more competitive.
Commissioner Karmenu Vella
Citizens' Dialogue in Vienna
On 2 June, Vienna hosted a Citizens' Dialogue with Commissioner Karmenu Vella. The Commissioner was joined on stage by Andrä Rupprechter, Federal Minister for Agriculture and Environment. The discussion with 350 participants in the beautifulSofiensaal focussed on how to turn environmental challenges into economic opportunities, in particular through the circular economy. The participants raised questions and shared their opinions on various environmental and economic issues, such as preventing food waste, encouraging renewable energy sources and striving for better quality and more durable products.
In his opening words, Commissioner Karmenu Vella welcomed the opportunity of discussing citizens' views directly with them, particularly those who felt their voices are not heard in the EU. Minister Rupprechter praised the idea of Citizens' Dialogues and the possibility to engage directly with people.
The lively discussion then began with clarifications on what is meant by a circular economy. Commissioner Vella explained that it does not only focus on waste management, but starts by avoiding waste in the first place through better designs and longer lasting products. Minister Rupprechter agreed, and stressed that "Investment in the environment and climate creates jobs and helps us save resources".
Responding to a question on whether the Commission has any plans to address food waste, the Commissioner acknowledged the scale of the problem and underlined that food waste is a serious challenge in the EU. "By wasting food, we are wasting land, labour and resources and adding to carbon emissions." The EU wants to address food waste now. "We have set targets and Member States will need to make plans for how to achieve them" he explained.
Discussing the economic benefits of a circular economy, the Commissioner clarified that it started as an economic concept. Resource efficiency is necessary to save our planet in a world where the population is growing every day and resources are becoming scarce, he stressed. "It can build a new generation of European enterprises, making clean products and services for markets around the globe.
It can create jobs all across Europe, in ecodesign, waste prevention, repair and recycling, as well as new services based on renting or sharing products." The private sector is interested and is providing investment because of the profitability.
The circular economy has been adopted in other parts of the world, for example in China, Brazil, and the United States. Multinational companies that want to follow this model need global standardisation. Countries that can provide the right environment and adopt such a resource efficient approach will be more competitive, the Commissioner emphasised.
In discussing the protection of the environment through eco-taxes, Commissioner Vella referred to the carbon emissions trading system as a good example of an eco-tax. It has ben a success in the EU and now other countries in the world would like to introduce similar systems, he added.
As regards taxing and subsidising fuels, the Commissioner explained that all types of fuel are taxed, but, in his opinion, only energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind or ocean energy should be subsidised. In this context, the Commissioner considered the choice of diesel engines to be a mistake. "The EU now needs to move faster to catch up with greener forms of transport", he said.
Responding to concerns on whether cheap products and foods that are produced by countries using lower standards reduce the competitiveness of high quality EU products, the Commissioner urged the continuation of education and awareness-raising of costumers. He added that EU citizens already tend to choose greener and better quality products.
Answering to a call to provide more space for nature, the Commissioner referred to Natura 2000 as a success. The scheme covers almost 20% of the EU’s land area and is centred on people working in harmony with nature. There is still, however, a need to improve the management of these areas, the Commissioner warned.
The event in Vienna was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.