The European Union needs to step up its efforts to support regions and cities as they seek to tap into the huge bioeconomic potential available from using Europe’s natural resources sustainably, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) argues in an opinion that calls for the EU to launch a comprehensive overview of its current bioeconomy strategy.
The opinion drawn up by Katrin Budde, Member of the Landtag of Saxony-Anhalt, was adopted in the plenary session on Thursday 11 May. It argues that the EU should aim to significantly increase the contribution of bio-based industries to the economy over the next ten years so that Europe’s economy becomes more sustainable, resource-efficient and competitive.
“Expanding bioeconomy represents major development potential in terms of growth and jobs, particularly in rural and structurally disadvantaged areas. It also has an important social dimension. But such an expansion can only be a success if it takes into account regional specificities in the design and funding of bioeconomy initiatives. The European Commission must therefore propose how such regional approaches can be incorporated at an early stage”, urged rapporteur Budde, reminding that a knowledge-based bioeconomy, which is fully respectful of the environment, can also foster independence from fossil fuels and counteract climate change by means of carbon neutrality.
Although the EU has earmarked €3.85 billion for investment in bioeconomy research and development, the opinion argues that a more rounded and concerted approach is needed to overcome the challenges for a nascent sector facing major risks, long payback periods and non-harmonised rules. Improving synergies between various existing financing instruments and facilitating access to them is therefore crucial to boost investment in biotechnologies. The EU’s next research framework programme, as well as the design of the common agricultural policy and future cohesion policy, should have a stronger focus on developing the bioeconomy.
The opinion also calls for measures to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to bring bio-based products to the market. These could include market incentives to partially offset the cost disadvantages for consumers, as well as better funding options and guarantees to reduce the economic risk during market roll-out. Furthermore, it is recommended that Member States and EU cities and regions favour bio-based materials in public procurement. It is also important that better communication strategies are developed in order to strengthen the awareness of the bioeconomy in the regions. In the future, the term “bioregion” and “biocommunity” should be used, in order to identify cities and regions with a particular focus on the development of the bioeconomy.
Lastly, the opinion points to considerable regional disparities in the development of bioeconomy and in the regulations governing the sector: for example, EU Member States currently apply different rules for the use of biomass as a starting point for bioeconomy value chains. This is why the CoR argues that legislation must be harmonised and simplified, in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.