Von der Leyen, on 10 September 2019, introduced the team of 26 designated European Commissioners (12 women and 14 men) who will officially be in office once the list has been approved by a vote in the EU Parliament. The sitting Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, will be replaced by the new one when its term expires on 31 October 2019. The Commissioner’s role is to defend the general interests of the European Union, rather than those of individual nations.

It is a well-known fact that the European Commission is the Union’s “legislative engine”: it brings forth legislative proposals that then have to be approved by the European Parliament and the European Council. The Commission is therefore responsible for dictating the agenda and deciding which issues will be prioritised over the five years in which it remains in power.

According to the first declarations made by the future President, the intentions of the next Commission involve ensuring that the European Union will remain a leader in the global fight against the climate crisis, as it has been in the past. “I want the European Green New Deal to become Europe’s distinctive element. At its core is our commitment to becoming the first carbon-neutral continent in the world,” declared Ursula von der Leyen.

An ambitious and important objective if we consider that, according to data published by the European Environment Agency on 22 July 2019, member states’ emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants are once more on the rise and 14% of EU citizens claims to have been exposed to pollution, dirt and other environmental problems (2017 data released by Eurostat in September 2019).

The fight against climate change would unquestionably benefit from a system of energy taxation that accounts for the CO2 emissions of energy products. In a report from 11 September 2019, the European Commission advocated for such a revision of the tax system, noting that Directive 2003/96/EC on the taxation of energy products has become outdated compared with the current goals for fighting the climate crisis.

An effective contribution to the fight against the climate emergency and CO2 emissions has come in the form of the EU Emissions Trading System, which is currently in its third phase (2013-2020). The Commission has approved a regulatory proposal to revise and improve the rules for auctioning quotas, so as to increase effectiveness in reaching EU objectives (40% reduction of emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels). Additionally, from January 2021 – the start of phase four of ETS – a new registry for emission quotas will come into effect, having been approved with Regulation (EU) 2019/1122.

The EU directives for the 2018 Circular Economy Package, which will contribute to the prevention of waste production, still need to be implemented by member states (the deadline is 5 July 2020). Current data, however, is not comforting: in 2017, 486 kilograms of waste were produced for every EU citizen (Eurostat, 22 August 2019), even though waste destined for landfill decreased by 63% compared to 1995 levels.

The Declaration of the Circular Plastics Alliance may lend a helping hand: signed on 20 September 2019 by over 100 public and private entities, its intention is to promote voluntary action for the effective functioning of the EU market in the recycled plastics sector. The Circular Plastics Alliance aims to achieve, by 2025, the goal of using 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics per year to manufacture new products in Europe. It is worth remembering that, according to Eurostat, the rate of “circularity” (the percentage of material resources derived from recycled products and reclaimed materials) in the EU in 2016 was 11.7%.

New laws regarding POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) came into effect on 15 July 2019, thanks to EU Regulation 2019/1021, bringing the legislation in line with the 1907/2006/EC provision on chemical substances (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals – REACH). Furthermore, in relation to chemical substances, Regulation (EU) 2019/1148 (in effect from 31 July 2019) extrapolated the REACH restrictions on ammonium nitrate and integrated them in the new legislation on explosives precursors. Finally, still in relation to REACH, EU Decision 2019/1194 identified para-tertiary butylphenol as an “extremely worrying substance” that can have serious effects on the environment.

EU Emissions Trading System, ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/ets_en

Circular Plastics Alliance, ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/policy/circular-plastics-alliance_en