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Press conference by Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner Sinkevičius on a package of proposals on soil, waste and deforestation

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 17 november 2021.

Executive Vice-President Timmermans

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to our College read-out.

The College adopted a package of measures and actions on soil, deforestation and waste shipments, delivering on our Green Deal.

We will get into the details in a minute.

The College also discussed a Communication on the review of competition policy, ensuring it is fit for new challenges.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager will present this in a press conference tomorrow.

Then, under ‘Any Other Business', the President, the HR/VP and myself debriefed on the various summits we attended, including the G20, the COP26, the President's meeting with President Biden, and the Foreign Affairs Council.

Vice-President Schinas also debriefed us on his visits to the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq.

Furthermore, Commissioner Kyriakides gave us an update on the latest epidemiological developments in the EU.

Lastly, Commissioner Hahn informed us about the agreement on the 2022 annual budget.

And now let me move to our main subject of the day. Today, we adopted three further initiatives under the European Green Deal.

  • A regulation to finally curb global deforestation and forest degradation as a result of EU demand for agricultural commodities. This was very strongly wished by our citizens.
  • A revised regulation to govern waste shipments both inside the EU and towards third countries.
  • A strategy to improve the health of our soils, enable sustainable soil use, and provide the necessary legal protection of soil.

Just a few days after concluding COP26, I believe these initiatives show that the European Union is serious about the green transition and just keeps moving forward with it.

In Glasgow, I ended my final intervention on behalf of the EU by saying ‘it doesn't stop here, it's only at best a start'.

And that's true. This is at best the end of the beginning. And we have a tremendous amount of work to do.

The actions we take now follow through on our ambitions and - that's what really counts - concrete action. To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crises, we must take responsibility at home as well as in our international relations.

The proposals we present to you today do exactly that.

Our deforestation regulation answers citizens' call to minimize the European contribution to deforestation and to promote sustainable consumption. Between 1990 and last year, we've lost 420 million hectares of forest - that's an area larger than the European Union.

EU demand for commodities like palm oil, soy, wood, beef, cocoa, and coffee are strong drivers of deforestation. More and more citizens want us to put an end to this. Our proposal therefore creates a strong due diligence system. It ensures that we only import these products if we can ascertain that they are deforestation-free and produced legally.

Our new rules for waste shipments will boost the circular economy and ensure that the EU's waste stops polluting third countries. You know, it's about time that we learn that trash is cash, rather than a problem. We propose much stricter rules on the export to non-OECD countries, as well as closer monitoring of export to OECD countries.

All EU companies exporting waste outside the EU should ensure that the facilities receiving their waste, manage it in an environmentally sound manner.

Within the EU, we want to simplify procedures for certain shipments for recycling. So, landfill and burning has to be made more difficult and recycling has to be made easier.

This will help create markets of scale for recycled materials and turn waste into a valuable resource.

Our third proposal under the Green Deal is the soil strategy. We depend on soil for most of our food and yet, 70% of soil is not in a good shape. Getting soils healthy is simply a matter of our own survival.

The strategy sets a number of ambitious and necessary objectives to heal our soils, such as the reduction of soil pollution to non-harmful levels by 2050. In essence, that is what climate neutrality means, beyond carbon neutrality it also means that your environment has to be in a healthy and good shape.

I believe this is the only way that we can teach ourselves to learn to live within planetary boundaries and still have high levels of development and have peaceful relations with our environment. While allowing for the rest of the world, that is aspiring to reach our levels of development, to also get there.

Commissioner Sinkevičius :

Thank you Frans, I think you have covered most of the main points there, let me just come back on some important details.

I want to begin with an obvious message - we can't ask for ambitious climate policies from partners on the one hand, and export pollution and support deforestation on the other.

And I am more than happy to say that our proposed Waste Shipment Regulation and Deforestation Regulation are the most ambitious legislative attempts to tackle these issues ever put forward in the world. It shows our responsibility and our willingness to walk our ‘green talks' globally.

To begin with deforestation, this proposal is a truly ground-breaking one. And the reason why we can proudly say that it breaks new ground is that it targets not just illegal deforestation, but all deforestation driven by agricultural expansion.

It is based on mandatory due diligence rules and strict traceability of the commodities and products placed on the EU market.

It sets the bar high, with operators and traders being required to have geolocation information on the land where commodities are produced.

That way we ensure that only deforestation-free products enter the EU market - and enforcement authorities will have a key role to play here.

The scope is also very broad - Frans listed the main commodities; and the proposal also includes derived products like leather, chocolate and furniture, with a list that can be expanded over time.

I have already mentioned the word responsibility, and that really is the central concept for both deforestation and waste.

The waste Communication is called ‘Our waste, our responsibility', and that sums up the approach. The goal is to make the EU take a greater responsibility for the waste it produces.

Unfortunately, that's not the case today, and that's what needs to change.

To give you some figures, last year the EU exported 33 million tonnes of waste. We are witnessing, overall, a 75% increase since 2004. Half of this goes to non-OECD countries, where waste management standards and practices are considerably lower than they are inside the EU.

If you treat waste properly, with modern techniques, it becomes a resource. That's what we want to encourage, so that more materials are kept in the loop, and return to the EU economy as secondary raw materials.

Today only 12% of raw materials used in EU industry come from recycling. This is not a number that satisfies our circular economy ambition.

So our proposal has three main objectives.

We want to stop exporting the EU's waste challenges to third countries. Waste may be exported only if the third country is willing to receive it and can recover it in an environmentally sound way.

We want to facilitate and simplify shipments of waste for recycling within the EU.

And it's also a proposal that tackles illegal activities. Between 15 and 30% of waste shipments are likely illegal, worth €9.5 billion annually on the illicit waste market in the EU. And of course there are strong links to organised crime.

So we want to strengthen the Commission's role to investigate waste trafficking in the EU through OLAF, our anti-fraud office, which will support Member States' investigations on the ground.

You can also expect a new EU ‘waste shipment enforcement group' to increase cooperation between customs, police and national inspection authorities, stronger rules on penalties and, before the end of next year, a new proposal to revise the Environmental Crime Directive, encouraging Member States to bring in a more robust penal framework.

Lastly, to complement on the Soil initiative. What we really want is a level of protection like the one we currently give to water, the marine environment and air.

70% of Europe's soils are degraded. This is a direct threat to our food security, but also to our, animals' and nature's health. Degraded soils mean high costs to the EU economy, currently more than EUR 50 billion every year.

So the Strategy aims to fill the gaps in soil protection and proposes actions and measures to ensure good soil health by 2050. The past decade has shown that voluntary measures - however good they are - can't fill that gap on their own.

Subject to an impact assessment and broad consultations, the next step will see the Commission launching an impact assessment for a proposal for a Soil Health Law in 2023, to address the transboundary impacts of soil degradation.

I'll be very happy to come back on any questions you might have on these proposals.

Thank you.

For more information

Opening remarks by Executive Vice President Timmermans

Opening remarks by Commissioner Sinkevičius


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