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Splish, splash! Swimming safely in European waters this summer

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At home or abroad, Europeans can safely enjoy a swim this summer as 93% of bathing sites meet minimum quality requirements set out under EU rules.

Some 83% of bathing sites monitored across the EU in 2020 are judged as excellent in the European Environment Agency's annual report, meaning they were mostly free from pollutants harmful to human health and the environment.

The countries with the highest number of bathing sites with excellent water quality - 95% or more - are Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, Greece and Austria.

Read this overview explaining how the EU improves public health.

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Electricity interconnectivity

Commission approves €30.5 billion French scheme to support production of electricity from renewable energy sources

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a French aid scheme to support renewable electricity production. The measure will help France achieve its renewable energy targets without unduly distorting competition and will contribute to the European objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This aid measure will stimulate development of key renewable energy sources, and support a transition to an environmentally sustainable energy supply, in line with the EU Green Deal objectives. The selection of the beneficiaries through a competitive bidding process will ensure the best value for taxpayers' money while maintaining competition in the French energy market.” 

The French scheme

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France notified the Commission of its intention to introduce a new scheme to support electricity produced from renewable energy sources, namely to onshore operators of solar, onshore wind and hydroelectric installations. The scheme grants support to these operators awarded via competitive tenders. In particular, the measure includes seven types of tenders for a total of 34 GW of new renewables capacity that will be organized between 2021 and 2026: (i) solar on the ground, (ii) solar on buildings, (iii) onshore wind, (iv) hydroelectric installations, (v) innovative solar, (vi) self-consumption and (vii) a technology-neutral tender. The support takes the form of a premium on top of the electricity market price. The measure has a provisional total budget of around €30.5 billion. The scheme is open until 2026 and aid can be paid out for a maximum period of 20 years after the new renewable installation is connected to the grid.

Commission's assessment

The Commission assessed the measure under EU state aid rules, in particular the 2014 Guidelines on state aid for environmental protection and energy.

The Commission found that the aid is necessary to further develop the renewable energy generation to meet France's environmental goals. It also has an incentive effect, as the projects would otherwise not take place in the absence of public support. Furthermore, the aid is proportionate and limited to the minimum necessary, as the level of aid will be set through competitive tenders. In addition, the Commission found that the positive effects of the measure, in particular, the positive environmental effects outweigh any possible negative effects in terms of distortions to competition. Finally, France also committed to carry out an ex-post evaluation to assess the features and implementation of the renewables scheme.

On this basis, the Commission concluded that the French scheme is in line with EU State aid rules, as it will facilitate the development of renewable electricity production from various technologies in France and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the European Green Deal and without unduly distorting competition.

Background

The Commission's 2014 Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection and Energy allow member states to support the production of electricity from renewable energy sources, subject to certain conditions. These rules aim to help member states meet the EU's ambitious energy and climate targets at the least possible cost for taxpayers and without undue distortions of competition in the Single Market.

The Renewable Energy Directive of 2018 established an EU-wide binding renewable energy target of 32% by 2030. With the European Green Deal Communication in 2019, the Commission reinforced its climate ambitions, setting an objective of no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050. The recently adopted European Climate Law, which enshrines the 2050 climate neutrality objective and introduces the intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, set the ground for the fit for 55' legislative proposals adopted by the Commission on 14 July 2021. Among these proposals, the Commission has presented an amendment to the Renewable Energy Directive, which sets an increased target to produce 40% of EU energy from renewable sources by 2030.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.50272 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of State aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.

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Plastic waste

Plastic waste and recycling in the EU: Facts and figures

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Nearly a third of plastic waste in Europe is recycled. Find out more facts and figures on plastic waste and its recycling in the EU with this infographic, Society.

Infographic about plastic waste and recycling in Europe
Find out the facts about plastic waste and recycling in the EU  

The production of plastic has grown exponentially in just a few decades - from 1.5 million tonnes in 1950 to 359 million tonnes in 2018 worldwide – and with it the amount of plastic waste. After a sharp drop in production in the first half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, production recovered again in the second half of the year.

The EU is already taking measures to reduce the amount of plastic waste, but what happens to the waste that is generated despite all efforts? And how can plastic recycling rates be increased?

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Plastic waste treatment in Europe

In Europe, energy recovery is the most used way to dispose of plastic waste, followed by recycling. Some 25% of all the generated plastic waste is landfilled.

Half of the plastic collected for recycling is exported to be treated in countries outside the EU. Reasons for export include the lack of capacity, technology or financial resources to treat the waste locally.

Previously, a significant share of the exported plastic waste was shipped to China, but recent restrictions on imports of plastic waste in China is likely to further decrease EU exports. This poses the risk of increased incineration and landfilling of plastic waste in Europe. Meanwhile, the EU is trying to find circular and climate-friendly ways of managing its plastic waste.

The low share of plastic recycling in the EU means significant losses for the economy as well as for the environment. It is estimated that 95% of the value of plastic packaging material is lost to the economy after a short first-use cycle.

Globally, researchers estimate that the production and incineration of plastic pumped more than 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2019. By 2050, those emissions could rise to 2.8 billion tonnes, a part of which could be avoided through better recycling.

Read more about waste management in the EU.

Problems with plastic recycling

The main issues complicating plastic recycling are the quality and price of the recycled product, compared with their unrecycled counterpart. Plastic processors require large quantities of recycled plastic, manufactured to strictly controlled specifications and at a competitive price.

However, since plastics are easily customised to the needs - functional or esthetic - of each manufacturer, the diversity of the raw material complicates the recycling process, making it costly and affecting the quality  of the end product. As a consequence, the demand for recycled plastics is growing rapidly, though in 2018 it accounted for only 6% of plastics demand in Europe.

Find out more about EU plans to reach a circular economy by 2050, including plastic reduction.

EU solutions to increase recycling rates

In May 2018, the European Commission put forward a proposal to address the issue of plastic marine litter. It includes an EU ban on the production of the top 10 single-use plastics that are found on European beaches from 3 July 2021.

As part of the Green Deal, 55% of plastic packaging waste should be recycled by 2030. This would imply better design for recyclability, but MEPs believe measures to stimulate the market for recycled plastic are also needed.

These measures could include:

  • Creating quality standards for secondary plastics;
  • encouraging certification in order to increase the trust of both industry and consumers;
  • introducing mandatory rules on minimum recycled content in certain products, and;
  • encouraging EU countries to consider reducing VAT on recycled products.


The European Parliament also backed the restriction of light-weight plastic bags in the EU in 2015.

In addition MEPs called on the Commission to take action against micro plastics.

Read more about the EU strategy to reduce plastic waste.

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Environment

Water management: Commission consults to update lists of pollutants affecting surface and ground water

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The Commission has launched an online public consultation to seek views on the upcoming review of the lists of pollutants occurring in surface and ground waters, as well as on corresponding regulatory standards. This initiative is particularly important for implementing the recently adopted Zero Pollution Action Plan as part of the European Green Deal, and wider efforts to secure the more efficient and safer use of water.

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “All Europeans should benefit from clean water. Ensuring good quality of surface and groundwater in Europe is paramount for human health and for the environment. Pollution caused by pesticides, manmade chemicals or from residues of pharmaceuticals must be avoided as much as possible. We want to hear your views on how this can best be achieved.”

A recent evaluation (‘fitness check') in December 2019, found EU water legislation to be broadly fit for purpose. However, improvement is needed on aspects such as investment, implementing rules, integrating water objectives into other policies, administrative simplification and digitalisation. This revision aims to address some of the shortcomings in relation to chemical pollution and the legal obligation to regularly review the lists of pollutants, as well as to help accelerate implementation. The public consultation is open for feedback until 1 November 2021. More information is in this news release.

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