A coalition of member states in the EU Council of Ministers signed up to the latest version of a text which “considerably reduces” the initial scope of the renovation obligation, critics said.
A proposal to refurbish 3% of public buildings on a yearly basis, seen as “one of the thorniest issues” in the directive, is likely to be scrapped during talks between the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament, due to differences in between member states.
“There is a certain level of resistance in some member states to the idea of having a binding renovation target given the current financial constraints,” said Fiona Hall, a British MEP who is following the negotiations for the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
For example, France would prefer measuring the total amount of energy saved as opposed to having a specific renovation rate. And Austria does not support a fixed percentage, as it already has a long record in renovating houses, which would not be taken into account if the 3% rate were to become law.
“It’s an up and running issue,” said Claude Turmes (Greens, Luxembourg), the MEP in charge of steering the directive through Parliament.
'The greatest energy savings potential'
Buildings – whether public or private – make up for around 30% of the total amount of energy consumed in the EU. And 75% of this energy is consumed are residential homes, says a study by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) in Brussels.
The European Commission acknowledges this, saying in its energy efficiency plan last year that “the greatest energy savings potential lies in buildings”. According to the EU executive, renovating buildings could generate savings of up to €1,000 per household each year and create up to 2 million jobs.
These jobs will not be temporary because even if revamping a building is a one-off measure, “there are plenty of building in Europe and there will always be a need to improve them”, said Arianna Vitali of WWF, the conservation group.
The Commission’s initial ambitions have visibly shrunk in the revised directive, and have decreased even further after the Council's amendments.
“There are substantial differences,” an EU source said.
Of the total 30% savings potential, the Commission addressed only 12% by targeting public buildings with a total useful floor area of over 250 square metres, according to sources.
This already excluded smaller buildings and was criticised for not being enough to reach the energy savings target set for 2020.
The Council's latest draft of the Energy Efficiency Directive, published in December under the Polish presidency, weakened these measures even further. It addressed only central authorities’ buildings with a useful floor area of over 500 m2 and as of 9 July 2015 over 250 m2.
“This change in the latest Council text is very disappointing as it waters down the initial Commission proposal significantly. We are talking about tackling significantly fewer buildings, if we require only buildings owned by central government authorities to undergo renovation,” said Hall, the British MEP.
Sweden, France and the Netherlands have many buildings owned by the central government, whilst in Germany, regional authorities own most public buildings. In the UK, many buildings owned by the central government are historic and would be exempt from this requirement.
Still, talks are not yet over and by the end of the Danish presidency countries might agree on ways to encourage public authorities to revamp their buildings. There is a "shared view" that governments should lead by example, but “it is no secret” that the Council and Parliament would negotiate hard on this, industry sources said.
Measures are 'very unpopular'
The provision on energy efficiency in buildings has been weakened by EU member states also because changes in buildings are very unpopular amongst citizens, an EU official told EurActiv.
“At the end of the day, consumers will have to pay for energy efficiency changes through their energy bills”, the source said. “It is a political decision to ask them to do so, it is very unpopular for politicians”.
Contacted by EurActiv, the EU’s spokesperson for energy, Monica Holzner, reiterated what Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said earlier: “I am not sticking to a specific figure, but on the whole, we have to reach the total savings that we want to achieve with this directive.”
Talks are now concentrated on setting a binding 20% energy savings target, which would create incentives for investment.
This will largely be achieved through another provision requiring energy companies to deliver annual 1.5% energy savings. “You make a minus on one side, but you it adds up on the other side,” an EU official told EurActiv. The new law would allow energy companies to choose alternatives to the annual 1.5% obligation, one of which is reaching the same amount of savings by improving energy efficiency in buildings.
Even it has been watered down, the proposal for an energy efficiency directive is expected to strengthen the existing legislation for energy efficiency in buildings, which is considered to be too weak in some quarters.
“The directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings (EPDB) represents no encouragement to increase the renovation rate, it addresses mostly new buildings,” Arianna Vitali of WWF said, “and the energy efficiency directive should complement the EPDB”.