At this point, it is worth noting that besides the most obvious sectors –bioeconomy, cleantech, food, etc– other domains can also serve as fast-tracks to expand circular economy principles. For example cultural heritage valorisation and adaptive reuse, which focuses on reconnecting the city of the past to the contemporary city, is a great example of circular city principles being applied in a field that is often overlooked when it comes to circularity. The ethos of modern heritage management is actually circular by nature.
Placing the circular economy at the heart of smart specialisation strategies
For funding reasons, the so-called Strategies for Smart Specialisation matter because of their close link to the European Structural and Investment Funds via Operational Programmes. In fact, S3 was established as an ex-ante conditionality by the European Commission for all member states and regions to access ESIF-funded OPs. As a result, S3 has become the mainstream innovation policy in Europe in record time. That is why, duly managed, smart specialisation strategies can work well to scale up circular economy plans.
And the good news is that the upcoming S3 designs (now branded as strategies for sustainable and smart specialisation S4) are being mandated to work as boosters of the new European Green Deal framework strategy, which includes the Circular Economy Action Plan. To ensure this, the empowerment of cities (local authorities) as S4 key actors or developers would be helpful, since many of them are driving the transition to more circular economies.
Circularity as a driver of the forthcoming European recovery and resilience plans
The Covid-19 crisis is being seen as a potential accelerator of the transition to a genuinely sustainable and digital economy and society. To fuel the transition and repair the economic and social damage caused by the pandemic, the EU has mobilized an unprecedented amount of resources through its long-term budget for 2021-2027. It includes new and temporary financial instruments like NextGenerationEU, with 750 billion Euros to fund recovery and resilience plans. This new funding scenario is opening up a negotiation at the sub-national level. This offers cities a precious opportunity to scale up their circular economy agendas within Europe’s framework strategy focusing on the next economy and resilience.