27 member states hit with EU legal action over energy efficiency

The Commission has referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice in Luexembourg. [Gwenael Piaser/Flickr]

Every member state of the European Union, with the sole exception of Malta, was hit by legal action Thursday (26 March) over failures to translate the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive into national law.

The European Commission referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice. It wants Budapest fined €15,444 daily for not transposing the directive by the June 2014 deadline.

EU judges will decide the final amount of any fines, which would stop once the rules are on national lawbooks.

“The level of this penalty is set taking into account the duration and the seriousness of the infringement,” the Commission said.

Infringement procedures take several steps to encourage countries to comply before ultimately leading to the ECJ and possible fines. There are three successive stages, a letter of formal notice, a reasoned opinion, and referral to the ECJ. 

Hungary is the only country to be referred to the ECJ for non-transposition of the directive. It was subject to two separate infringement procedures for not observing the directive. Sources said such a double hit was highly unusual.

The other 26 member states were hit by infringement procedures because they missed the June 2014 deadline to tell the Commission how they were transposing the directive

The executive was unable to confirm if such a large number of cases for a single directive was a record.

Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Sweden declared that they had fully transposed the rules by the 5 June 2014 deadline. A further five countries declared transposition after the deadline, but it appears that only Malta passed the executive’s test.

EURACTIV exclusively reported this morning that 16 countries have not fully transposed it, and three had not reported any progress.

>>Read: Member states face legal action over energy efficiency

At a press conference in Brussels on Thursday, Commission Energy Spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen named the three member states as Hungary, Greece and Bulgaria.

The College of Commissioners, which met earlier to agree on the monthly infringement package, spared Greece and Bulgaria from being referred to the ECJ, Itkonen said.

Bulgaria was in the process of transposing the directive into national law, she added. Greece had only received a Commission opinion on its transposition in February, so it was too soon to take the step of referring it to the ECJ.

Energy Union

Just last week in Brussels, EU leaders backed the Commission’s blueprint for Energy Union, its project to bolster the bloc’s resilience to shortages and fight climate change.

The communication called for the rigorous enforcement and full implementation of existing energy efficiency legislation.

“These infringement procedures will help to bring closer a meaningful Energy Union in Europe,” Commission Chief Spokesman Margaritas Schinas told reporters.

Energy and Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete informed EURACTIV earlier this month that the executive would take action.

“The Commission is on track at the moment to launch all infringement procedures against all the member states who have not applied the regulation in many areas – but mainly in energy efficiency,” Cañete said at the time.

>>Read: Brussels toughens up on policing EU energy efficiency laws

Speaking at a summit of mayors of EU capitals and large cities in Paris today, Cañete strongly backed energy efficiency as a major weapon in the battle against climate change, and for energy security.

“In the implementation of the Energy Union, I am determined to apply the energy efficiency first principle,” he said. “I pledge not to take any other measures if the same goal can be reached through energy efficiency.”

The Commission would focus on the implementation of existing legislation, the Commissioner said.

 “We need to properly enforce the Energy Efficiency Directive and make sure that renovation rates pick up,” he added.

The European Union's Energy Efficiency Directive in late 2012 was expected to trigger the largest revamp of Europe's existing building stock to date and set new standards for public procurement and energy audits. But implementation of the rules at national level has been poor. The EED is as close as the EU comes to an EU-wide energy efficiency strategy anchored by legislation.

The Energy Union will cut across a number of policy sectors including energy, transport, research and innovation, foreign policy, regional and neighbourhood policy, trade and agriculture, according to the EU executive's plans. 

Plans for the Union have developed beyond questions of security of supply to encompass issues such as fighting climate change.

>>Read: Special Report: An Efficient Energy Union

The Commission has the power to take legal action against member states not respecting their obligations under EU law. There are three successive stages, a letter of formal notice, a reasoned opinion and referral to the European Court of Justice, which can result in fines. 

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