EU Parliament agrees position on buildings law despite pushback
The European Parliament approved its stance on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) on Tuesday (14 March), setting out a more ambitious position ahead of negotiations with EU countries.
“The EPBD deal is adopted! Huge step forward for lower energy bills, reducing energy poverty, and tackling 36% of EU emissions,” said Ciaran Cuffe, the Green Irish lawmaker in charge of the Parliament’s negotiations on the buildings directive.
Europe’s buildings are responsible for 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions and 40% of its energy consumption, but renovation rates are well below where they need to reach Europe’s climate goals.
To tackle this, the European Commission proposed updating its building laws in late 2021. According to EU energy chief Kadri Simson, it is “indispensable and urgent to take action” on Europe’s inefficient building stock.
The European Parliament’s position increases ambition, including on renovation rates. It passed with 343 votes in favour, 216 against and 78 abstentions.
The Parliament’s draft also increases safeguards for renters and flexibilities for EU countries and building owners. “While we’ve increased the ambition level for renovation, we’ve also adopted stronger social protections against disproportionate rent increases or eviction,” said Cuffe.
The Parliament’s approach also wants to increase the number of households installing solar panels and get rid of fossil heaters.
“We will boost renewable installations in buildings and member states must adopt plans to phase out fossil fuel use in buildings by 2035,” he added.
The supporters of the law herald it as a way to tackle the multiple crises battering Europe, including the energy crisis, climate crisis and war in Ukraine.
Ahead of the vote, Cuffe said the EPBD “will not only lower emissions, but will also lower energy bills, boost European jobs and industries and strike a blow to Europe’s dependence on fuel imports from Russia and elsewhere”.
“It’s the right plan for Europe, the proposed deal will save almost 50 billion cubic metres of fossil gas per year. That’s the gas consumption of 35 million households,” he added.
“Even after this crisis is over, gas prices will remain significantly higher than before 2022. The new normal will hit the pockets of people in the worst performing buildings up to 10 times harder than in energy efficient buildings,” said Sean Kelly, who negotiated the buildings directive on behalf of the centre-right.
It lines the European Parliament up for a fight with EU countries, but both EU countries and the European Parliament need to “walk the talk” when it comes to building renovation, Morten Petersen, a Danish liberal on the Parliament’s negotiation team, told EURACTIV.
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The vote narrowly avoided disaster, with those on the right of the hemicycle, including members of Renew Europe and the European People’s Party, criticising it for being overly bureaucratic and superfluous.
Two amendments, one to give unlimited derogations and the other to delay renovations, could also have derailed the vote.
“We shouldn’t try to shape society to prepare it for climate change with bans and coercion. We have to find smarter solutions,” said Angelika Niebler a German centre-right lawmaker from the European People’s Party (EPP).
“It goes without saying that the building sector needs to do its share to enable us to reach our climate targets […] The question isn’t whether we should decarbonise our building stock, but how we should do it,” she added.
Niebler also questioned whether the EPBD is necessary, given there is already legislation looking at boosting energy efficiency, including a carbon price for the heating of buildings and the newly agreed energy efficiency directive.
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However, the EPP’s Kelly said the legislation already agreed is “not enough or technically feasible” to reach Europe’s 2030 and 2050 climate goals to ensure action in the building sector.
Other MEPs worried about the burden that it would put on EU countries and citizens.
“For new buildings, the new energy efficiency requirements until 2030 are impossible to accept. If you take a look at the average building stock, without taking into account different buildings, this could be acceptable,” said the Finnish centrist, Marui Pekkarinen.
“There are differences between countries,” he added. In some countries, Pekkarinen said, “the proposal goes too high”, citing Finland as an example, where heating is largely decarbonised.
Meanwhile, the buildings directive negotiator on behalf of the nationalist European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) criticised the paperwork and administrative burden that he said would be caused by the draft.
“It does not consider citizens and member states as partners, rather as children, which should be forced to a dramatically green approach,” he said.
Money was also an issue for the ECR in supporting it, with one Polish lawmaker from the group questioning the Greens over funding.
In response, Green MEP Bas Eickhout pointed to money available under the recovery fund, and highlighted that the Parliamentary report asks for money to be set aside for renovation in the next seven-year budget.
“There is a lot of European money that is available and that will deliver on climate, lower energy bills, jobs, and less dependency on Russia. You should be in favour of that. That you can’t access European money, that’s your problem that you need to solve first,” he said.
The fact the European Parliament managed to pass its draft despite some uneasiness within groups gives it a stronger position going into negotiations with EU countries. “Now on to trilogues,” Cuffe said.
“We, the Parliament negotiators, are determined to protect the achievements we have made so far,” the Irishman stressed.
However, it is likely to be an uphill battle for Parliamentary negotiators against EU countries, where a large coalition of at least 16 countries strictly opposes mandatory renovations for individual buildings.
Speaking after the vote in Strasbourg, Italy’s Energy Minister Gilberto Pichetto said: “The Directive approved in the European Parliament is disappointing for Italy. As we have done so far, we will continue to fight to defend the national interest.”
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