Sefcovic: More enforcement, stricter rules to come on energy efficiency

Commission Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? said stricter enforcement and rules on energy efficiency were on the way. [EPP Group/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / Stricter EU energy efficiency and performance laws will be rolled out by the European Commission next year, and enforcement of existing regulation will be further stepped up, the bloc’s energy chief today (18 June) told EURACTIV.

Commission Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? confirmed that the new rules would have stronger requirements than the existing Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

But he conceded there was little chance of national governments agreeing to revise upwards their target of increasing their energy efficiency by 27% by 2030, which was agreed last October with the option of revisiting it in 2020.


Infringement procedures

This morning, the Commission referred Greece to the European Court of Justice for not implementing the EED. It faces a daily penalty of € 29145.60 until the law is put in place.

Final warnings were also sent to Germany, Austria, Portugal, Croatia, Bulgaria, Ireland, Latvia and Romania. The next step will be to bring the governments in front of EU judges.

2012’s EED failed to trigger the renovation of the EU’s building stock, which would bring consumption and cost savings, because national governments have not put it on their lawbooks.

In March, the Commission brought legal action against every EU member state, with the sole exception of Malta, for failing to make the EED national law. Hungary was referred to the European Court of Justice in March. The executive wants Budapest fined €15,444 daily for not transposing the directive by the June 2014 deadline.

>>Read: 27 member states hit with EU legal action over energy efficiency

There was more enforcement action to come, Šef?ovi? told EURACTIV.

“First, we need to make sure that what has been agreed is properly implemented,” he said, “So therefore I think you will see more infringement procedures from us to the member states.”


Šef?ovi?, a Slovak, is in charge of Energy Union, the flagship EU strategy to bolster the bloc’s resistance to shortages, lessen its dependence on imports, and fight climate change. It is also a political response to the Ukraine crisis, which exposed the extent of the EU’s dependence on Russian gas.

Today (18 June) is the day the bloc becomes 100% dependent on energy imports for this year. It spends more than €1 billion every day to import the energy it needs.

Renovating the EU’s building stock could push Energy Dependence Day back to 26 October, campaigners have said.

>>Read: Opinion: Renovating Europe, gaining more energy independence

Revised EED

The Energy Union strategy was backed by EU leaders at their summit in March, just six days before almost all of their countries were hit by legal action and possible fines, over the EED.

>>Read: Leaders broadly endorse ‘Energy Union’ plans, leave details to later

Both the EED and Energy Performance of Buildings Directive have review clauses for next year to ensure 2020 climate and energy targets are hit. But the review would be driven by the executive’s commitment to put “energy efficiency first” EU officials said.

It would also be informed by the need to ensure that the bloc hit its target of at least 27% improvement in efficiency by 2030, they added.

Šef?ovi? said the rules would be stricter and stronger, when asked by EURACTIV after he had spoken at an event in Brussels. The exact timeline was still being negotiated butit would be part of the Commission’s 2016 work programme, most likely towards the end of the year.

EU officials later ruled out the possibility of the Commission using its “Better Regulation” procedures to re-evaluate and change EU laws to spur greater pickup of the EED.

Šef?ovi? had spoken at an event about the financing of energy efficiency for the EU’s Sustainable Energy Week.

“The energy we don’t use is our first fuel,” he said, before highlighting how business could incentivise greater use of the EED through innovation and investment.

Political lobbying

Šef?ovi? is touring Europe to drum up more support for the Energy Union, which plans to create a grid where surplus energy in one part of the EU can make up shortfalls elsewhere. “I campaign for the major goals of the Energy Union,” he said.

Energy efficiency was a central part of the political pressure he was bringing to bear, he said. Šef?ovi? was directly responsible for ensuring the primacy of efficiency in the strategy, Marie Donnelly, the director of the Commission’s energy department, added.

But despite their support for the strategy, he did not expect EU leaders to revist the 2030 efficiency targets.

The Commission wanted EU leaders to agree to an efficiency target of 30% but that was impossible to agree in October, Šef?ovi? said. Instead leaders backed a deal of at least 27% by 2030, with the option of revisiting the target later.

Adrian Joyce, the secretary general of the European Alliance of Companies for Energy Efficiency in Buildings (EuroACE), and Renovate Europe campaign director, asked if there was any chance of the threshold being raised.

Given the difficulty of reaching even the 27% agreements, governments “would prefer to stick to the European Council conclusions”, Šef?ovi? said.

>>Read: EU leaders adopt ‘flexible’ energy and climate targets for 2030

The Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Eurochambres) said, "We fully support the European Commission in its (intended) zero tolerance approach towards member states and in this regard we would like to emphasise the energy audit provisions of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED). Eurochambres recently published a transposition study on Art. 8 (=energy audits) of the EED which confirms that delayed transposition in 10 member states creates a high degree of legal uncertainty for businesses. Moreover, the reluctance of governments to provide support programmes for SMEs to undergo energy audits, as set out in the directive, undermines competitiveness and the pursuit of energy efficiency targets. This clearly shows that the enforcement of existing regulation has to be stepped up."

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.

  • 2016: Review of Energy Efficiency Directive

Subscribe to our newsletters