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Interview of Daniel Calleja, Director General of the European Commission
1)During the 1st Circular Economy Forum in Greece on 8th April, government representatives and professional associations admitted that Greece has not made progress in the field. Which do you think is the main obstacle for the development of the Circular Economy in Greece? Would you suggest a policy as a first step for the Greek reality?
Greece has long-standing challenges when it comes to waste management, with 82% of waste going to landfill and only 17% recycled, while the 2020 EU target is 50% and this will rise to 65%. Traditionally this has been seen as a problem for the Environment Minister, regions and municipalities to solve. But the message we wanted to make clear at the “Virtuous Circles” event in Athens is that waste is a resource, and the solutions will come from innovation and entrepreneurship. When household waste – food, plastic, aluminium, glass, paper - is all mixed together that value is difficult to extract and that is why 82% of it is dumped in holes in the ground. But if it is collected separately then it can be re-used and recycled. That process createdsmany local jobs, and we saw, with examples from Spain, Portugal and Italy at the conference, that it is very possible if the basics are in place. The key is to get the economic incentives right and to increase citizens’ awareness. In Catalonia progressively increasing charges for landfill, and investing this money into modern recycling facilities, has transformed their waste performance and simultaneously created a whole ecosystem of businesses that are getting value from re-use, repair, recycling and selling secondary materials. Greece has some specific issues, such as its 6000 islands and mountainous areas, but these make circular solutions even more important. Separate collection of waste must be the first step to successful waste management. One-third of Greek waste is biowaste, including food waste. Taking this out of the mix of waste from houses, hotels and restaurants not only reduces the overall mixed waste by one-third, but it can be locally processed, converted in small or large scale plants into biogas to fuel local transport or into nutrients to enrich soil on farms and in forests.
2)What opportunities the transition to the circular economy brings for Greek companies and economy?
Many people think that circular economy is about waste, but this is wrong. Many tons of materials are going into our economies every day; in products, buildings and food. Circularity means getting the maximum value from those materials and other resources such as energy, water and nutrients. In circular terms the best waste is no waste, but when a product is thrown away it is still possible to extract and recycle those resources. We talk about moving away from a linear economy - where resources are extracted, processed, used, then thrown away - to a circular one. But we are not talking about one big circle, where if you recycle your waste everything is OK. In fact there are millions of transactions in our economies, and the secret of circularity is finding ways to make loops of value back into the system. Take remanufacturing for example. When the engine block or alternator from a car fails, it makes no sense to replace it with a new one made in China with virgin raw materials. Most of the elements only require a clean and check, whereas the worn or broken elements need replacing. Doing that job requires low capital to start up, and medium level skills, it is labour intensive and needs to take place close to the customer. Not only does it generate local jobs and value, the environment benefits, as the spare part requires only 20% of the energy input of making a new part, and the customer benefits from a much cheaper replacement with a full warranty. Remanufacturing accounts for only about 2% of EU manufacturing today but the potential is great for many products, and in sectors important for Greece such as shipping and ports. There are many new business models that can create value locally, such as sharing platforms, repair cafés, re-use and re-purposing workshops. Many of these are run as community or social enterprises and really improve the local quality of life. The creativity of many projects is inspiring and we are making as many of these ideas available as possible through our European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (https://circulareconomy.europa.eu/platform/ )
3) EU cohesion policy is key to making the circular economy a reality. In the new investment framework for 2014-2020, there is significant funding for waste management. What are the future plans for funding?
During the current programming period 2014-2020 EUR 1 billion are allocated to waste management infrastructures and actions. Greece heavily relies on landfilling and mechanical treatment of unsorted waste; and lags behind very much when it comes to recovery, reuse recycling and the circular economy. There are some recent positive developments, for example with the waste management facilities in Western Macedonia and Epirus, which are expected to reach recycling/reuse levels very close to the current targets of EU legislation. For the future Greece, as all other Member States, should promote and incentivise waste prevention, recycling, reuse, sorting at the source and composting, to facilitate the transition to a circular economy and to respect ever more stringent EU legislation on reducing landfilling and increasing recycling/reuse percentages. These are therefore the areas for which EU funding will be made available, which should be reflected also in the upcoming revision of the national and regional waste management plans. In Greece waste management is the competence of local authorities, therefore assistance to small municipalities and utilities is essential in order to improve their technical, managerial and organizational capacities. For this too EU funds can be made available. The governance model introduced recently for the waste water sector could be applied also the solid waste sector. On the other hand, EU funds will no longer be available for landfills, incineration or mechanical treatment of unsorted waste.
As far as available funds are concerned, the total allocation to Cohesion Policy for Greece in the period 2021-2027 (as per Commission proposals) is EUR 21.6 billion, of which EUR 11.5 billion for the ERDF; EUR 5.9 billion for ESF+; and EUR 4.0 billion for the Cohesion Fund. Under the proposed thematic concentration rules this translates into about EUR 3.5 billion for the ERDF Policy Objective 2 "A greener, low-carbon Europe, including energy transition, the circular economy, climate adaptation and risk management", which covers among other things the circular economy. Of the proposed Cohesion Fund budget, indicatively some 50% (about EUR 2 billion) would be allocated to environmental interventions. Therefore the overall package for all environment and energy related investments would be of the order of EUR 5.5 billion. At this moment, however, it is too early to provide any estimate on how much exactly would be available for solid waste management; this will depend on a detailed analysis of the needs.
4) During the 1st Circular Economy Forum in Athens, Mr. Pitsiorlas, Deputy Minister of Economy & Development, said that regional funding is distributed on per capita income and this is an obstacle for Greece as most of the activity is concentrated in Athens. How flexible the European institutional framework is in this case?
Cohesion Policy invests in all European regions, which are categorised as less developed, transition and more developed. The method whereby the overall allocation is calculated, is based on GDP per capita, youth unemployment, education levels, climate change, and the reception and integration of migrants. For the ERDF and ESF+ in Greece in the period 2021-2027 the categorisation criteria lead to 11 regions being qualified as "less developed" and 2 regions (Attica and South Aegean) as "transition". The fact that the total funds allocated to each category are fungible between the regions within the category, leaves significant allocation flexibility for the ERDF and ESF+. As regards the Cohesion Fund the available funds are allocated on a member state basis, without any pre-defined distribution between regions or categories of regions. Therefore for this Fund the member state has full flexibility in distributing the monies among regions.
About Daniel Calleja
Daniel Calleja has been Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment since September 2015, before which he was Director General of the DG for Enterprise and Industry (DG GROW). From 1993 to 2004, Mr. Calleja worked in the cabinets of several Commissioners, including the President of the European Commission, advising on Transport and Competition matters, State Aids and the application of Community Law. Between 1999 and 2004 he was Head of Cabinet for both Commissioner Oreja and Vice-president Mrs. Loyola de Palacio, in charge of Transport and Energy.He started his career in the Commission as Member of the Legal Service between 1986 and 1993. During that period, he represented the institution in numerous cases before the European Court of Justice.