European Union: The EU And Its €2 Trillion Bioeconomy Introduction

Last Updated: 9 March 2012
Article by Paul Sheridan, Nick Beckett and Olivia Quaid

On 13 February 2012 the European Commission published a strategy and an action plan termed "Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe" (COM (2012) 60 final) (the "Strategy" - click here to view). Following on from other initiatives such as the Europe 2020 strategy to secure green growth and the low carbon economy roadmap the Commission's aim is to create a more innovative and low carbon economy, balancing food security, sustainable fisheries and agriculture and industrial use of biological resources whilst achieving protection of the environment and biodiversity.


In the context of the Strategy "bioeconomy" means the production of renewable biological resources, their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bio-energy. It includes waste streams, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, pulp and paper production, chemicals, biotechnology and energy. Currently it is estimated that the EU bioeconomy has an annual turnover of €2trillion.

The development of the EU bioeconomy is tasked with dealing with the challenges of increased resource demand, accumulating pressures from population growth and finite renewable biological resources whilst contributing to EU competitiveness and skills. A radical change in approach to production, consumption, processing, storage recycling and disposal is sought.

3 Pillars

The Strategy has 3 pillars: (1) advancing new technologies and processes by investing in research and innovation ("R&I") and skills, (2) developing markets and competitiveness in bioeconomy sectors, and (3) encouraging closer and more aligned working with policy makers and stakeholders.

Whilst many of those within the bioeconomy sector may consider that the sector (or the various sub-sectors) is well established, the language utilised shows some ambition. There is a desire to ensure that Europe is competitive and galvanises R&I at EU level rather than at potentially fragmented national level which weakens the strength of the offering when compared with other large economic units adopting industrial biotechnology such as the US or China. The Strategy and its proposals will be of direct interest to the life sciences and TMT sectors (for example in respect of modelling and life cycle tools). It will also be of interest to those who produce goods involving natural resources, and the energy and waste sectors.

A summary of the 3 pillars is set out below.

Pillar 1 – research, innovation and skills

The first stated aim is to ensure substantial EU and national funding alongside private investment and partnering opportunities for R&I. In so doing, a key focus of proposed efforts is the identification of main areas of research with priorities for food, agriculture, forestry, marine and maritime activities. One aim is to increase the adaptive capacity of plants, animals and productive systems to cope with effects of climate change and resource scarcity and to ensure better control of aquaculture. The Strategy envisages achieving this aim through for example, deploying different agricultural practices to include enabling biotechnologies. There is a proposal to move towards increased multi-disciplinary and collaborative R&I (to obtain a holistic understanding of issues and solutions and to minimise the potential for controversies arising from differing interests (for instance with biomass)). Scientific advice will remain central in the forming of policy decisions. The working document for the Strategy refers to the potential of new instruments to achieve policy outcomes such as, on an illustrative basis, the application of emission trading to waste as a method of financially incentivising a change in the use of waste and reducing emissions. Further, the development of new bioeconomy training for university and vocational schemes is envisaged.

Pillar 2 – market development

The Strategy identifies that new markets may be developed through a range of measures including standards and standardised methodologies for bio-based products and food production; introduction of green procurement measures and wider dissemination of bioeconomy related procurement training; incentives and learning mechanisms for resource efficiency; and establishment of R&I public private partnerships for bio-based industries at European level.

The Commission aims to provide the knowledge base for sustainable intensification of primary production and to understand issues surrounding biomass better including whether waste could be the "new biomass". At the same time efforts to develop an agreed methodology for environment impact (such as lifecycle assessments) are to be supported. Logistics for supporting networks of bio-refineries across Europe are required and the establishment of R&I Public Private Partnership for biobased industries at European level is suggested for 2013.

It is envisaged that growth in these areas will not only transform existing bio-based industries but lead to the emergence or enlargement of new industries and open new markets for bio-based products.  An example is that of food waste. Food waste, which costs roughly €55-90 per tonne for disposal and generates an estimated 170m tonnes of CO2, is identified as a resource which could be recovered and reused. Of course many Member States are actively involved in this already, via waste law and policy, but the EU sees a need to increase the market more dynamically.

Pillar 3 – policy co-ordination and engagement

Plans are identified to facilitate greater co-ordination and closer working across Member States to create a more consistent and coherent framework which in turn is intended to assist both long term and shorter focused investment decisions.  Reference is made to the fact that bioeconomy strategies are already in place in a number of Member States such as Germany and the Republic of Ireland. Ways to achieve this include establishing a bioeconomy panel involving the Commission, Member States and stakeholders and proposals to create similar structures at individual country levels; setting up a Bioeconomy Observatory in order to consider and inform the development of the European bioeconomy including the preparation of forward looking scientific modelling tools and by mapping existing R&I activities and infrastructures by 2015.  Co-operation to address global issues like food security and climate change via the Strategy shall be promoted.


The Strategy results from a genuine fear at policy maker level that without at least a serious debate about change, the EU will fail to future proof its economy and lose out to more visionary external competition. The Strategy is only a beginning but it is a significant marker of intent. We shall have to see how it develops over the coming years. If it develops as other initiatives have in this arena, it has the potential for considerable impacts on commercial and investment considerations.

Click  here to view our Law-Now on a Resource Efficient Europe.

Click here to view our Law-Now on the Roadmap to a Low Carbon Economy.

Co-contributor Sinead Oryszczuk

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 05/03/2012.

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