Niels Fuglsang MEP: Revised EU energy efficiency rules must trigger immediate action

"This is a Directive we really need to get right, and the Parliament must make sure that the ambition is not watered down," says Niels Fuglsang. [© European Union 2021 - Source : EP]

This article is part of our special report Energy efficiency.

The revised Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) must ensure that EU member states take action immediately and do not delay their efforts until the end of the decade, says the EU lawmaker responsible for drafting the European Parliament’s position on the draft legislation.

Niels Fuglsang is a Danish lawmaker from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament. He is the rapporteur for the revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive.

Looking at the EU’s climate targets, the existing 32.5% energy efficiency goal for 2030 is proving the hardest to achieve. Why is that so?

It’s a good question to reflect upon, because it seems self-evident that energy efficiency would help us reach our climate targets, reduce emissions, and save consumers money.

In my view, the Energy Efficiency Directive has not been sufficiently binding, but with the ‘Fit for 55’ package we have the chance of an ambitious deal now.

Things have also changed a lot in the past few years. In Denmark, when I was running for the European Parliament, the election became a ‘climate election’, and this was also the case in many other member states.

There is a broad majority of MEPs with an ambitious climate stance, so we have a great opportunity now to improve the directive.

What are your impressions after your first exchanges with other MEPs on the revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive? Can we expect the Parliament to increase the level of ambition compared to the European Commission’s original proposal?

We are very much at the beginning of our discussions. At the moment, the political groups are creating their own positions. I am optimistic that we already have a pretty ambitious proposal from the European Commission’s side. I believe the European Parliament will look into ways of strengthening the proposal, to make our economy more competitive and increase our building renovation rates.

Where exactly could the ambition be strengthened?

We need to look at the targets and consider if they are ambitious enough and cost-effective. The 9% reduction in energy consumption by 2030 compared to last year, the 1.5% annual energy savings obligation goals – are they ambitious enough? Because EU member states must do a lot of effort right now if we want to achieve our long-term objectives – they cannot leave all efforts until the very last minute.

We must push for action from the very beginning. And we also need to address the question of energy poverty: vulnerable consumers are the ones that will benefit the most from it as they often live in inefficient buildings.

Energy efficiency law 'too ambitious' for some EU member states

Just four months after the European Commission tabled its revised Energy Efficiency Directive, campaigners said they were “extremely worried” about attempts by some EU countries to dilute the proposal.

The discussions on the ‘Fit for 55’ package are taking place against the backdrop of skyrocketing energy prices and concerns around energy poverty. When we look at the solutions that have been discussed, do you believe energy efficiency measures have featured enough in the debate?

No, I believe there has not been enough attention on energy efficiency in the ongoing crisis. If we look at data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), energy efficiency should contribute with 44% of the necessary greenhouse gas reductions globally. A large part of the effort that we need to make to reach our climate objectives comes from energy efficiency measures. It is true that it is more difficult to communicate, though. If you look at the debates around renewables, it is much easier to look at wind turbines to illustrate it.

Yet, energy efficiency measures are the ones with the clearest impact on consumers…

Yes, we have the overall climate and energy targets, but energy efficiency is something that affects individuals very closely. When you look at building renovation, you can also see how it improves a lot of people’s lives and makes a concrete difference.

But I believe people are more and more shifting their mindset, also in the context of the energy crisis. Just consider that, every time we increase energy efficiency by 1%, gas imports decline by 2.6%, according to the European Commission.

Member states recently discussed energy efficiency measures and the ongoing crisis in the Energy Council. How do you expect the Council to approach negotiations on the Energy Efficiency Directive?

I hope the Council can put national, short-term interest aside. We all have an interest to increase the effort – we need to make these efforts to see the benefits in the long term. This is a Directive we really need to get right, and the Parliament must make sure that the ambition is not watered down.

What do you expect to be the main points of contention in the negotiations? There are already some reservations, for instance, regarding the energy savings obligations.

The annual energy savings obligations are crucial. The new proposal aims to increase the annual energy savings obligation to 1.5% from the previous 0.8%, that is a significant increase. But that ensures that member states are taking action in the short term, and that is one of the most crucial aspects. Without this article, there is no Energy Efficiency Directive.

As I said, we must also look at whether we can increase the overall ambition. We need data to make an assessment, but we should look if there is a potential for increasing our ambition.

‘Flexibility’ was one of the buzzwords at the latest Energy Council, with several member states requesting a flexible approach when dealing with energy efficiency measures. What’s your take on that?

We must strike a balance: it is good that Brussels sets overall targets and EU member states have certain flexibility in how we achieve these targets.

But there are some things that all member states need to do, and that is building renovation. There are some elements of the proposal in which we can be pretty flexible, but some other elements are a ‘must’.

Speaking of building renovation, the European Commission will soon present the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). What’s your ‘wish list’ for this proposal?

I see two crucial things: first, minimum energy performance standards need to be increased to make sure that new buildings live up to energy efficiency standards, and help us reach our targets.

Secondly, the renovation rates: Eu member states need to set up long-term renovation plans for buildings in Europe.

The Green Brief, powered by Goldman Sachs – How flexible is too flexible?

There’s a well-known f-word in Brussels – flexibility. And, when EU energy ministers met to discuss Europe’s plans for renewable energy and energy efficiency last week, it seemed they had bet on who could say it most.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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