Cities and Circular Economy within the EU Urban Agenda

The Circular Economy Action Plan and the overall effort of EU institutions have indeed played a key role in mainstreaming the concept of circular economy in Europe. The majority of EU Member States now have a national strategy or roadmap dedicated to this topic, and Regions are increasingly entwining their Smart Specialization Strategies (RIS3) (European Commission 2014b) with the circular economy. In the context of the ongoing programming period, structural and investment funds, Horizon 2020, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) and LIFE programme, Interreg Europe, offer important financial resources for investing in the circular economy, with a strong focus on the experimentation of circular approaches in urban and peri-urban contexts.

The circular economy is currently also one of the thematic priorities of the EU Urban Agenda. A specific Thematic Partnership on the Circular Economy (UAPCE) has been launched in 2017, coordinated by the city of Oslo and involving The Hague, Prato, Porto, Kaunas, Flanders Regions, four Member States (Finland, Poland, Slovenia and Greece), the Commission, European Investment Bank and other stakeholders. An Action Plan has been elaborated and approved in 2018 to provide cities with a set of specific actions and recommendations across the three building pillars of the Urban Agenda: better regulation, better funding and better knowledge. The Action Plan mainly focuses on four themes: circular consumption, urban resources management, circular business enablers and drivers, governance.

Although the Plan is considered as an open and in-progress document, a number of specific measures and priority fields of action have been identified, which shall also benefit from post-2020 cohesion policy and its explicit reference to the circular economy. Such measures include revision and improvement in waste legislation, water reuse measures, analysis of regulatory obstacles and drivers for boosting an urban circular bioeconomy, elaboration of a Circular City Funding Guide, preparation of policy options for mainstreaming the circular economy in the post-2020 regulatory framework or set up of a Circular City Portal, among others. Importantly, the Plan also highlights the key role of the sharing or collaborative economy in circular economy initiatives, especially in areas such as circular consumption and CO2 reduction. Lastly, the Plan acknowledges the diversity of urban contexts across Europe, recognizing that the transition to the circular economy is likely to be different in each European city.

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