Circular economy’s slow transition

European Court of Auditors | 2023

There is little sign of the EU’s transition to a circular economy, says a report published today by the European Court of Auditors. EU measures and billions of euros have had little impact on EU countries’ transition, particularly concerning the circular design of products and manufacturing processes. In this context, achieving the EU’s ambition of using twice as many recycled materials during the current decade as the previous one will be like trying to square the circle, concluding the auditors. The report.

The conclusions (p.43):

  • Overall, we conclude that there is limited evidence that the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plans (CEAPs), and in particular the actions regarding the circular design of products and of production processes, were effective in influencing circular-economy activities in the member states.
  • Since the publication of the first CEAP in 2015, there has been an increase in circular economy activities by member state governments. At the time of our audit, nearly all EU member states had developed, or were in the process of developing, a national circular-economy strategy which referred to CEAP and related EU policy and included circular design to some degree. However, and despite EU legislation incentivising EU funding for the circular economy, the circularity rate increased only by 0.4 percentage points between 2015 and 2021. Moreover, progress varied substantially among member states. Against this background, the EU ambition to double the circularity rate by 2030 looks very challenging (see paragraphs 23-28).
  • The Commission’s framework to monitor the EU transition to a circular economy did not capture all the key aspects. It lacked specific indicators for circular product design, the phase which determines most of its environmental impact (see paragraphs 29-32).

Download the report

Circular economy Report
The report.