June 21. 2024. 7:39

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EU’s green buildings law faces right-wing backlash in European Parliament


As the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive enters the home stretch, it faces a first crucial test in the European Parliament this week, where opposition is lying in wait.

The EPBD is currently being revamped in a bid to decrease the energy consumption of buildings in Europe and align it with the EU’s more ambitious climate goals for 2030.

To do this, the European Commission has proposed introducing minimum energy performance standards for the 15% worst performing buildings, which would be rated “G” on the EU’s energy performance scale.

Under the proposal, tabled in December 2021, all buildings in Europe must reach a minimum performance threshold by 2033, whether they are residential or not. And by 2050, the entire building sector should be almost entirely emission-free.

However, it’s not clear whether the minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) will survive mounting opposition from EU countries.

“We will oppose [the EPBD] as a government but above all as Italians,” said Italy’s Infrastructure Minister Matteo Salvini.

Initially spearheaded by Rome and Warsaw, the rebellion is now also gaining traction in the European Parliament where the EPBD is facing a plenary vote on Tuesday (14 March).

In Tuesday’s plenary, EU lawmakers will vote on a text agreed last month by the Parliament’s industry committee.

The text negotiated by Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe upholds the minimum standards, and even increases the renovation ambition compared to the Commission’s initial proposal.

Parliament adopts position on law to green EU houses by 2050

The European Parliament has adopted its position on the revision of the EU buildings directive, putting it on collision course with the 27 EU countries as EU lawmakers seek to boost renovation rates in the bloc.

Right-wing opposition

The text voted in committee is supported by all major political groups on the left and centre of the hemicycle.

But the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group staunchly opposes the EPBD, saying the entire law must be renegotiated from scratch. In total, the far-right listed 22 changes it wants to introduce in the text.

Beyond the far-right, the rebellion is now also gaining the ranks of other right-wing parties. First among them is the nationalist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), dominated by Poland’s ruling law and justice party (PiS), which raised a list of 25 objections to the draft text.

More unexpected though was the last-minute intervention by a lawmaker from Germany’s liberal FDP party, Andreas Glück, which has raised eyebrows in Parliament.

On 3 March, all 705 MEPs received an e-mail from Glück asking them to support his amendments, aimed at granting EU countries “more flexibility when it comes to possible adjustments of minimum energy performance standards”.

Glück’s aim? EU countries can in theory apply for a temporary exemption from the minimum standards, at a capped rate. The FDP politician wants the cap removed, paving the way for unlimited exemptions for EU countries on renovation.

The German lawmaker is not a fan of the EU’s buildings directive. “The whole approach is botched,” he told German tabloid Bild earlier this month, calling for extra renovation in Europe’s East and South instead of in the richer parts, where buildings are more efficient.

The German lawmaker faces one last hurdle before the vote, though.

To get his amendments voted on Tuesday, he needs the support of at least 35 other lawmakers, according to the Parliament’s rules of procedure. Yet, Glück’s group, the centrist Renew Europe, supported the deal struck in committee and would not give him backing.

So the German FDP politician went to look for allies in other political groups.

According to the indicative voting list of 14 March, when Parliament is set to vote on the EPBD, the far-right ID group successfully requested a separate vote to be held on the exemption cap. Among the supporters is Germany’s anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Separately, Glück submitted the necessary signatures for a another vote to be held on the exemption cap, with support from rebel lawmakers in his liberal Renew group and the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP). Aside from 12 centrish supporters, 31 politicians from the European People’s Party signed up, according to a signature list shared with EURACTIV.

Since the two votes are identical, the Parliament administration decided to merge them.

Germany’s FDP sets sights on EU buildings directive

After thwarting a proposed EU ban on new fossil fuel cars, Germany’s liberal FDP party is now launching an attack on the EU’s buildings directive, which envisages a Europe-wide renovation obligation to reduce the sector’s emissions.

EPP wants to delete all references to penalties

With right-wing parties moving to neutralise the EPBD, all the attention is now shifting on the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in Parliament.

And here too, the mood is to scale down ambition.

“The EPBD will, without a doubt, directly affect citizens,” says Seán Kelly, an Irish MEP who represents the EPP in the Parliament negotiations.

To avoid “inaccurate depictions” of the EPBD’s social implications and avert a political backlash, he suggests deleting all references to penalties in the text.

“To put it simply, nobody is going to be thrown out of their home if they cannot renovate nor will Europe’s cherished buildings be torn down. It is for this reason that we sent a strong signal to citizens by deleting references to penalties proposed by the European Commission,” he wrote in an opinion piece for EURACTIV.

Minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) are strongly supported by the construction sector as well as climate activists.

“We’ve been asking for MEPS for years”, said Brook Riley, head of EU affairs at the insulation material manufacturer Rockwool. “It’ll give us a clear idea how many buildings have to be renovated over the next decade, so we can start investing,” he added.

“And with almost a quarter of the EU population living in energy poverty, it’s hard to think of anything more important than building renovation,” he told EURACTIV.

EU countries agree ‘fragile compromise’ on green buildings directive

As EU countries struggle to agree on energy performance targets for buildings, Paris and Berlin are now counting on the European Parliament’s backing to introduce more ambition into the EU’s green buildings law.