Buildings law gets preliminary stamp of approval from European Parliament

MEPs backed a strong energy performance of buildings report and will now have to fight for it in trilateral talks with the member states. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Energy performance of buildings.

MEPs on Wednesday (11 October) backed a revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) after a draft report managed to win broad support from across the political spectrum in a key Parliament committee.

Members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) yesterday formally adopted their position on the revised EPBD, which includes long-term national renovation strategies and milestones.

It also put in place “trigger points”, which are intended to encourage renovation work at convenient moments, in a bid to boost the EU’s paltry 1% average renovation rate. Fire safety was also included following the UK’s Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The report by Danish MEP Bendt Bendtsen (European People’s Party) will now form the basis of the Parliament’s position on the EPBD, which will be voted on in a forthcoming plenary sitting where it is expected to win equally broad support.

It is in stark contrast to the “general approach” adopted by the 28 EU member states in the Council of Ministers, which has been branded as “lacking ambition” and accused of diluting the European Commission’s initial proposal.

EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, speaking at the annual Renovate Europe Day before the vote, again complained that the Council’s “level of ambition” falls short of the Commission’s.

“Buildings will unquestionably play a major role in delivering on our Paris commitments,” he said, calling on the Parliament to counter the “flexibility that the member states have insisted on”, which Cañete claims could halve real-world energy savings if not kept in check.

Europe’s building stock is generally inefficient and massive emissions reductions and energy efficiency gains stand to be made if the legislation is adopted and then implemented properly by the member states.

Both the Commission and Parliament have been keen to highlight throughout the legislative process that the directive is not just a matter of encouraging people to install insulation so that their fuel bills are cheaper and their homes kept warmer during winter.

Renovation and building performance is linked to a whole host of other factors including security of energy supply, citizen’s health, social cohesion, climate protection and fire safety.

ITRE lawmakers backed the report with 51 votes in favour, 1 against and 11 abstentions, reflecting the strong support Bendtsen was able to build by penning a text that is ambitious in its objectives but which still respects national competences.

Commission laments member states' lack of ambition on energy saving laws

The EU’s 28 energy ministers on Monday (26 June) agreed on a general approach to the revisions of two key energy efficiency directives. But the European Commission lamented a “significant reduction” in ambition compared with its original proposals.

Puzzle not complete?

ITRE was widely expected to vote in favour of the report and its MEPs did not disappoint. In fact, there were only one or two question marks hanging beforehand over certain aspects of the text.

But the potential for the EPBD to cut emissions, tackle fuel poverty, improve public health and contribute to the decarbonisation of Europe’s economy is reliant on its piece of sister-legislation, the Energy Efficiency Directive.

That revision is also due for a vote in late November but its path through the Brussels policymaking machine has been far less smooth than the EPBD’s. ITRE is also the responsible committee for the file but the draft text by rapporteur Adam Gierek’s (Socialists & Democrats)  has so far proved very divisive.

Parliament has in the past indicated its support for a binding 40% efficiency target and for the existing directive to be improved. But Gierek’s report supports a 35% target and has been accused of trying to “turn the EED inside out”, according to the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a green pressure group.

The Polish lawmaker faces a tough month trying to build support for his text, as even his own political group has indicated that it too backs more ambitious targets.

Activists at Friends of the Earth Europe highlighted that after the success of the EPBD report “MEPs now need to back up this positive step with adequate 2030 efficiency targets to boost renovation rates, cut greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate energy poverty”.

EU lawmakers back 40% energy efficiency target for 2030

MEPs agreed on Thursday (7 September) to raise the bloc’s proposed energy efficiency targets post-2020 in order to improve chances of meeting EU obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Electric vehicles benefit

Perhaps the most divisive in the EPBD revision is the issue of electric vehicle charging points. The Commission’s initial proposal included a requirement that all non-residential buildings with more than 10 parking spaces include charging points for every tenth space.

Ahead of the vote, Bendtsen told EURACTIV that the EPBD is a tool to boost building renovations and underlined how from the very beginning of the process, he has insisted that the directive is not an instrument to regulate transport policy.

The Council and now the Parliament have significantly pared back the Commission’s plan as a result, after MEPs decided that those buildings will only have to install pre-tubing rather than full charging infrastructure.

Teodora Serafimova of the Platform for Electro-Mobility, however, still welcomed ITRE’s adoption of the report, commenting that “MEPs rightly see the need to make charging points obligatory in non-residential buildings”. She also welcomed the simplification of permitting procedures for existing buildings.

Commissioner Cañete called on MEPs ahead of the vote to “take an affirmative stance on charging points for electric vehicles”. Following the Council’s general approach this was the issue with which the Spanish official expressed greatest disappointment.

He pointed out at the Renovate Europe Day event that the EPBD is in fact the only tool at the EU’s disposal for regulating EV infrastructure in private homes. Cañete also added that 90% of charging currently takes place within a private context.

On 8 November, the Commission is expected to announce its transport decarbonisation proposal, which is predicted to contain incentivising measures for increasing electric vehicle market access.

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Germany’s environment ministry is preparing itself for electric car quotas, which Berlin believes the European Commission will soon propose. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Next up

ITRE also voted to enter inter-institutional talks with the Council and Commission, which, if green-lit by the full plenary session on 26 October, means Bendtsen will be able to sit down at the first trialogue meeting, earmarked for 7 November.

WWF Europe policy expert Arianna Vitali commented that the Council’s “backward-looking position” is a far-cry from the Parliament’s and warned that MEP Bendtsen will have to “be strong in the negotiations in order to make our homes and offices more efficient, healthy and climate-compatible”.

Céline Carre, President of the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE), agreed and called on Estonia to “duly take into account the Parliament’s strong position” during the trilateral talks.

As holder of the EU Council’s rotating presidency, Estonia has already stated that it hopes to reach a final agreement before the end of its mandate, i.e. before the end of 2017.

(With additional reporting by Paola Tamma.)

Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur Florent Marcellesi said"The EU member states have been dragging their heels on this, taking a much weaker stance. They will need to show much greater ambition if this directive is to truly deliver on its potential. We will work on that in the trialogue with the European Commission and European Council."

S&D group spokesperson MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri said: "New measures approved today will also help improve transport, because infrastructure for electro-mobility will be introduced. The idea is to build the necessary pre-cabling and pre-tubing for electrical-vehicle-charging points when buildings are being renovated."

The European Builders Confederation (EBC) strongly opposed the idea to take certified energy efficiency renovation as a factor for financial collateral in order to decrease the risk weighting for private investors such as banks. Ann-Cathrin Rönsch, EBC Energy Policy Officer, said: “With its proposal the European Parliament in fact excludes the vast majority of building renovations from the possibility of this way of financing, given that only about 1-2 percent of construction companies in the European Union possess certification due to the very high costs involved.”

European Insulation Manufacturers Association (EURIMA) Director General Jan te Bos said: "We are delighted to see a cross party majority in ITRE, sharing our conviction that building renovation is at the heart of Europe’s climate, energy and jobs and growth agenda. It is clear that it is the intention of the ITRE committee to put energy efficiency first.” Eurima also called on the Parliament to fight its corner in the upcoming trialogues.

European Aluminium and a number of other EU manufacturers also called on the European Council "to adopt an EPBD that helps to make energy efficiency a reality both at EU and national level, thereby honouring the COP21 agreement, and delivering tangible economic, environmental and societal benefits for business, government and consumers alike."

Building efficiency: Waking up the sleeping giant

Cutting wasteful energy use in buildings is at the centre of EU efforts to decarbonise its economy and reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports. However, there is still vast untapped potential in modernising heating, cooling and ventilation equipment known as …

  • 26 October: European Parliament plenary vote on EPBD
  • 7 November: First trialogue talks between the European Commission, Council and Parliament.

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