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Analysing European Union circular economy policies: words versus actions

Calisto Friant, Martin; Vermeulen, Walter J.V.; Salomone, Roberta


Martin Calisto Friant

Walter J.V. Vermeulen

Roberta Salomone


Claire Lea
Project Manager


Since the publication of the European Union's Circular Economy Action Plan in 2015, this new sustainability paradigm has become a guiding force behind the environmental and economic policies of the Junker Commission. The European Union (EU) has taken a particular approach to circularity, with high expectations to increase competitiveness, promote economic growth and create jobs while reducing environmental impacts and resource dependency. However, the circular economy (CE) is a contested paradigm, for which many competing interpretations exist, each seeking varying degrees of social, ecological and political transformation. Considering the emerging and contested state of the academic literature on CE, the EU's embrace of the concept is a remarkable phenomenon, which remains poorly researched. The aim of this paper is thus to address this research gap by analysing the CE discourse and policies of the Junker Commission (2014-2019) in order to critically discuss their sustainability implications and develop key policy recommendations. To do so, this research uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods. The paper first critically analyses the EU's discourse based on a typology of circularity discourses. It then reviews the complex set of concrete CE policies and actions adopted by the EU and compares them to its discourse. Results show a dichotomy between words and actions, with a discourse that is rather holistic, while policies focus on “end of pipe” solutions and do not address the many socio-ecological implications of a circularity transition. Several actions are thus recommended to tackle the systemic challenges of a circular future from a plural perspective.


Calisto Friant, M., Vermeulen, W. J., & Salomone, R. (2021). Analysing European Union circular economy policies: words versus actions. Sustainable Production and Consumption, 27, 337-353.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 3, 2020
Online Publication Date Nov 7, 2020
Publication Date 2021-07
Deposit Date Jan 13, 2022
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal Sustainable Production and Consumption
Print ISSN 2352-5509
Publisher Institution of Chemical Engineers
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Pages 337-353
Keywords Circular economy; Policy analysis; Discourse analysis; Environmental governance; Sustainability; Circular society
Public URL


Published article (2.6 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of Institution of Chemical Engineers. This is an open access article under the CC BY license. (

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