Estonia calls off ‘trench war’ talks on EU building law

Bendt Bendtsen, the Danish centre-right MEP leading the Parliament's delegation on the EPBD, said he expected EU member states "to meet us halfway". [Bendt Bendtsen Presse / Flickr]

EU Presidency holder Estonia called off negotiations over the recast energy performance of buildings directive on Tuesday (5 December) after a late night session described as a “trench war” by one official.

Three-way talks between the European Commission, Parliament and Council, known as trilogues, broke off around half past midnight, following a tense meeting, an Estonian Presidency official told EURACTIV.

Florent Marcellesi, a Green MEP, blamed EU member states for their “lack of ambition and flexibility” on the directive, which aims to reduce energy consumption from buildings.

In comments posted on Twitter, Marcellesi said Parliament wanted “more ambition” and had the Commission “mostly on our side”.

The European Parliament had entered the room in a strong negotiating position after the assembly backed the motion by Danish centre-right MEP Bendt Bendtsen by a large majority. And it was in no mood to cede ground to the 28 EU member state representatives in the Council.

“Indeed it was a trench war,” said one official who attended the late-night session.

Bendtsen said on Twitter that the Parliament delegation was “ready to deliver” but expected the Council “to meet us halfway”. A compromise proposal was on the table for each contentious point in the negotiation, a Parliament source explained.

The political significance of the energy performance of buildings directive was highlighted by the presence at the talks of Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s Climate Action Commissioner, who is keen to muster the EU’s commitment to fight climate change.

At issue was the timetable for long term renovation strategies to achieve emissions reduction in the building stock by 2050. While Parliament insisted on clear milestones for 2030, 40 and 50, member states were reluctant to agree on exacting commitments.

Midway through the session, negotiators decided they would stick to their guns, said an official from Estonia, which currently holds the rotating six-month EU Presidency.

“We were surprised. We had a list of eight issues on our menu, we were expecting much more time to debate them,” the official said.

‘Committed’ Canete ups pressure on EU buildings law

The EU Commissioner in charge of climate action, Miguel Arias Cañete, will personally attend three-way talks taking place Tuesday (5 December) on the recast energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), in a sign of the rising political profile taken by energy saving policies in Brussels.

Another negotiation round may still be organised before the Estonian Presidency ends on 31 December, but with the Christmas holidays approaching, this effectively leaves only two weeks to close the file, he said.

“We’ll have to schedule a third trialogue, although I’m not sure whether it will be under the Estonian or Bulgarian presidency,” the official said, referring to the next holder of the six-month rotating EU Council presidency.

“We can have more discussions with the member states. But the lines we were touching on were pink or red on the Parliament side. And moving the member states will be difficult, if possible at all,” the official explained, calling on the Parliament to show goodwill in order to move negotiations forward.

The Parliament chief negotiator Bendt Bendtsen, for his part, said the Estonian Presidency’s “very narrow mandate” left little room for compromise.

“The Parliament delegation was highly operational and solution-oriented last night,” Bendtsen told EURACTIV in e-mailed comments. “I admit that I am disappointed that, despite our attempts to compromise, the Presidency had no flexibility,” he said.

“The Presidency must guide the Council to show flexibility from the General Approach – as we have done in the Parliament from our report – and find common ground,” Bendtsen said, adding he remained committed to find an agreement.

“But we need a clear commitment from the side of the Member States,” said the Danish lawmaker.