In the shadow of French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech in Strasbourg on Tuesday (17 April), MEPs signed off on a number of important energy laws, as the EU took a small step towards the finalisation of the Clean Energy Package.
The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) took first place in the race to be the first of the European Commission’s 2016 energy proposals to cross the finish line, after MEPs rubber-stamped an agreement brokered with the Council.
Bendt Bendtsen, the Danish MEP tasked with leading the file, made the job look easy after first rallying huge support for his report on the proposal and his leadership during trilateral talks with the EU executive and member states.
Bendtsen said in a statement after the vote, which was adopted 546 in favour and only 35 against, that the new rules “will lower our dependency on imported energy, for example, Middle Eastern oil and Russian gas. This is an important feature to achieve the Energy Union inside the EU.”
Buildings account for 40% of Europe’s energy consumption and member states will now be obligated to come up with long-term renovation strategies in order to decarbonise their stock.
Other elements like fire safety and indoor air quality are also included in the final text, as is a provision that new buildings should facilitate the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
That latter issue emerged as a main point of contention between the three institutions, as the Commission’s plan was to have a far higher roll-out of charging points in new builds with parking spaces.
But the final document downgrades the number of points that have to be built and only obligates member states to ensure that parking spaces can be fitted with charging facilities, by providing the necessary ducting for electric wiring.
“The new rules will be a driver for rolling out infrastructure for electric cars, but it has to happen in a sustainable, market-based way. I do expect those making money from producing electricity for transport to be responsible for the rollout of recharging points,” Bendtsen concluded.
Although it is impressive how smoothly the EPBD proceeded through the legislative machine, most experts admit that it will only be fully effective once negotiations are settled on the much more comprehensive Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) recast.
Trilogues are due to resume next week under the guidance of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council and an informal meeting of energy ministers on Thursday (19 April) could grant the current holders a larger mandate to oil deadlocked talks.
Sharing the load
MEPs also gave the green light to an agreement on the Effort Sharing Regulation, a set of rules governing emissions reductions that are not covered by its sister piece of legislation, the Emissions Trading System (ETS).
That means that there will be binding 2021-2030 targets put in place for the agriculture, transport, buildings and waste sectors, which make up a significant 60% of the EU’s carbon emissions.
But the final agreement was not as well received as the EPBD.
Gerben Jan Gebrandy, the Parliament’s Dutch rapporteur on the file, said he and his fellow MEPs had “done our best to agree an ambitious European climate action regulation” but lamented that member states had done their best to water it down.
The Dutch MEP added that “thanks to pressure from the Parliament, we have succeeded in lowering the allowed carbon budget with the emissions of about four million cars. European governments will have to do more, and they will have to do it earlier.”
Sean Kelly, his counterpart from the European People’s Party (EPP), insisted that the final text “sets the right balance” though, between sufficiently reducing greenhouse emissions and not imposing unfair limits on farmers.
He also welcomed a provision in the text that permits allowances to be shifted from the ETS to the ESR, saying in a statement that this is an important step as “the economies of the EU are not all the same”.
Miriam Dalli, a leading MEP from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), denounced the deal as falling “short of what is needed” and warned that it would prevent the EU from embarking on a truly low-emissions trajectory. The deal envisages 30% reductions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
Climate Action Network Europe Director Wendel Trio said: “Both the overall EU target and all the national targets are not aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement”, adding that “it would have an extremely limited impact on the climate”.
Now it will then be up to the Council to formally sign off on the regulation. After that, it will be printed in the EU’s official journal and enter into force twenty days later.
Macron’s green credentials
The talk of the day was French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech, the latest EU leader to take centre stage at the monthly plenary session in Strasbourg and talk about the future of Europe.
Macron broached the subject of energy and climate policy, after urging EU lawmakers and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to pursue a roadmap for reform and a slew of other future-leaning ideas.
A number of countries are now implementing or mulling the idea of a minimum carbon price in order to make instruments like the ETS work the way they should. Macron confirmed that France would also take that leap.
“In the coming months, the debate on the carbon market will have to be reopened. France will push the idea of a minimum carbon price and support the idea of a carbon tax at the borders,” the French head of state told the Parliament.
During a March visit to Brussels, Macron said a carbon floor price was needed at EU level as current prices, although increasing, are not sufficient to force companies and industry to invest in less polluting technologies. They just pay for permits.
Macron also suggested in Strasbourg that he would support the idea of plugging the departing UK’s €13bn hole in the EU’s finances with fresh money and new financial tools, including one potentially based on the ETS.
EU budget chief Günther Oettinger has proposed a number of ideas that could help boost the bloc’s coffers, including a plastic tax and the repatriation of ETS revenue to EU level from national level.
It is unclear whether that would be a politically viable option, as lawmakers have only just completed their work on an update to emissions trading rules but Oettinger has insisted that there is room for manoeuvre in the existing rules.
Russell Patten, Secretary General of the European ventilation industry (EVIA), said: “One in six Europeans lives in unhealthy buildings and 2 million healthy years are lost in the EU every year due to poor indoor air quality. We are therefore pleased to see that the European Union is starting to recognise the crucial importance of indoor air quality”. Joan Miro, EVIA Chairman, said "we regret that co-legislators finally decided not to set mandatory inspection of stand-alone ventilation systems at this stage. This would have ensured the optimal performance of these systems, improved indoor air quality, tapped into the huge energy savings potential of the existing building stock and raised awareness among consumers on optimised behaviors.”
Juliette Albiac, Fire Safe Europe (FSEU) Managing Director, said “the revised proposal is an opportunity for national regulators to work on increasing fire safety in buildings. Energy efficient buildings must be fire safe: when improving a building's energy performance, fire safety has to be taken into account, not weakened.”