Initiative to Regulation: Why should fashion care?


Azul Stengel, Co-Founder of Lienzo

Photo by Jonas Tebbe

Why should the fashion industry care about EU initiatives?

Because of regulation, yes of course, seems straight forward enough. 

However, this article aims to underline how initiatives in themselves are important since they not only contribute to the creation of regulations, but they also provide the context to correctly implement legislation within the industry and across EU member states.

To properly understand regulation, we must know about its context and the process behind the development of initiatives, directives, and laws at the EU level. This is important because while regulation establishes requirements, it does not necessarily provide a methodology on how to implement them. That is to say, it demands you to do something, without telling you how to do it.

This leaves a lot of room for interpretation which is both good and bad: it would be easier to know exactly what steps we need to take in order to become compliant, but it also allows us to have some wiggle room in order to implement regulation in a way that aligns with our goals and objectives. Therefore, to do things properly, we must recognize the goals and objectives behind the regulation to properly align ourselves with it.

For this, we need to look upstream in the regulatory pipeline in order to understand not only what but also why. But first things first. Let us have a clear definition of what each element means before continuing our analysis. The goals set by the EU are achieved by several types of legal act (1). Some are binding, others are not. Some apply to all EU countries, others to just a few, so let's look into the different types of legal devices that the EU has in order to achieve their goals. 

Initiatives, Directives, and Regulations: specific definitions 

"European initiatives" refer to proposed actions or measures that are developed and promoted by the EU institutions, primarily the European Commission, with the aim of addressing specific issues, challenges, or policy goals at the European level. European initiatives are typically designed to advance the EU's objectives and policies in areas such as economic integration, environmental protection, consumer rights, foreign affairs, security, and many others. They serve as a starting point for the development of EU legislation and policies. (2) These initiatives can then take various forms, including legislative proposals, policy recommendations, or action plans that are later implemented as directives or regulations.

A "directive" is a legislative act that sets out a goal that EU countries must achieve. However, it is up to the individual countries to devise their own laws on how to reach these goals. One example is the EU single-use plastics directive, which reduces the impact of certain single-use plastics on the environment, for example by reducing or even banning the use of single-use plastics such as plates, straws and cups for beverages.

A "regulation" is a binding legislative act. It must be applied in its entirety across the EU. For example, when the EU’s regulation on ending roaming charges while traveling within the EU expired in 2022, the Parliament and the Council adopted a new regulation both to improve the clarity of the previous regulation and make sure a common approach on roaming charges is applied for another ten years. (3)

We can see a logical path here which starts with the definition of European initiatives which are then translated into directives and implemented as regulations at local level. This is important to understand because at each stage the objectives may vary and the final piece of legislation implemented may respond not only to European goals but also local ones.

Why is this important? Understanding the underlying political agenda behind regulation will make interpretation and implementation easier at local level.

Not just another piece of legislation, but part of a cohesive plan

Once we understand the underlying objectives and function of a specific piece of legislation, we can understand the why behind the what, which will help us with the how. Let me shed some light on this through an example.

Example: The European Green Deal

Presented in 2019, The European Green Deal aims at fighting climate change and environmental degradation, which are an existential threat to Europe and the world, and aims to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy. (4) To achieve this, it provides a roadmap with actions to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy and stop climate change, revert biodiversity loss and cut pollution. It outlines investments needed and financing tools available, and explains how to ensure a just and inclusive transition. (5)

It is then this roadmap that converts European goals into legislative action. Through the implementation of initiatives and directives to address these objectives at different levels such as energy, industry, transport, agriculture research and innovation, and more, and creates specific plans for each axis advancing their agenda through regulation.

In this example we will look at the plan they developed for industry, as it has a direct impact on the fashion and apparel industries. As part of the Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan was developed with the following objectives (6):

From this, the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles was born, and with it, the directives and regulations that have a direct impact on product conception, production, and disposal. It also addresses concerns such as greenwashing and empowering consumers and stakeholders through higher transparency requirements (7). Amongst other things, what we can immediately see is that these legislative acts are directly aligned with the objectives established by the circular economy action plan, which in turn, is a device to further the Green Deal’s objectives and agenda.