Incoming Czech EU presidency to focus on green buildings law

Czechia was looking “to craft the legislation in a way that is flexible, but at the same time ambitious,” a Czech government representative said. [Shutterstock/davide bonaldo]

The EU’s building stock is responsible for about 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption and 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions. The revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) wants to tackle the issue for real.

With the French Council presidency coming to an end, the Czechs want to make sure the 27 EU member states are on the same page ahead of negotiations with the European Parliament on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). 

“We have a tremendous potential to do something great for the European building stock now with the EPBD being on the table,” said Martin Pejrimovsky, energy attaché at the Czech permanent representation to the EU, during a EURACTIV event on 17 May

On 1 July, Czechia will take over from France for a six-month stint at the EU’s helm. And it will be up to Prague to wrangle one of the largest files in the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package of climate legislation, which aims to cut the bloc’s emissions by 55% by 2030.

Momentum could be in their favour. With war raging in Ukraine, the European Commission recently urged EU member states to raise their ambition on the EPBD as a way to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, which is widely used in heating.

In its ‘REPowerEU’ plan presented this week, Brussels “invites the Parliament and Council to enable additional savings and energy efficiency gains in buildings through the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive [EPBD],” reads the Commission’s communication.

The Czech presidency is treading carefully, though. At the EU’s helm, Czechia will look “to craft the legislation in a way that is flexible, but at the same time ambitious,” Pejrimovsky explained, saying “coherence” was needed across the files of the ‘Fit for 55’ package.

The f-word is well-known in Brussels. Flexibility is often a synonym for wiggle room used by EU states fearful of ceding regulatory ground to Brussels.

But buildings are local in essence and EU legislators are well aware of this. “Let’s focus on having flexibilities to focus on using the strength of the member states,” Pejrimovsky said. This, he added, would give EU states “enough ways to take advantage of their specific climate and cultural conditions”.

“We should also try to develop a framework that will allow for preserving the cultural and historical treasures that we have in the EU,” the Czech energy attaché said. 

At the same time, the Czechs also recognise the need for a European initiative to bring “a lot of skilled people” in the building sector. Noting the growing role of digital solutions in buildings, he also highlighted the need to ensure Europe remains a “global leader” in the industry.

Similarly, buildings’ energy performance has become “a matter of EU energy security,” as “every piece of energy we don’t need to use … is great news for the EU,” he said before heading off to another round of negotiation on the EPBD.

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The European Commission’s plan to eliminate Russian energy imports by 2027 features a strong focus on energy efficiency. For the energy intensive buildings sectors, this means yet another push to insulate homes fast.

Introducing health into the EPBD

The Czechs hope to reach a “general approach” on the EPBD in the Council of Ministers during their six-month stint at the EU helm. The European Parliament, meanwhile, is expected to vote on its position in December, opening the way for final talks to conclude the legislation next year.

Pejrimovsky did raise one additional point, though.

“Now is the time and the opportunity to inform the stakeholders [and legislatiors] … about the potential benefits or of renovations of buildings for health as well as energy efficiency,” the Czech attaché said.

Poor housing conditions are known factors that can negatively affect people’s health. One in six Europeans live in a damp our mouldy building, which doubles their chances of respiratory illnesses. People living in unhealthy buildings are also 40% more likely to suffer from asthma, according to the 2017 edition of the Healthy Homes Barometer.

“We spend 90% of our lives inside buildings,” explained David Briggs, CEO of windowmaker VELUX Group, who spoke at the EURACTIV event. 

About one third of Europeans are affected by indoor climate hazards like lack of daylight, excess cold, excessive noise or damp and mould, according to research by VELUX Group.

“The related health impacts are pretty well known. They include asthma, respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease,” Briggs said, adding that the latest study showed a “very strong link” between poor indoor climates and people’s general health.

‘It’s the housing, stupid’: How homes harm our health

Most of Europe’s buildings are over forty years old and are largely inefficient. Poorly insulated, leaky buildings have a real impact on inhabitant and worker health, according to the latest edition of the Healthy Homes Barometer.

The European Commission is aware of the issue and already introduced indoor air quality aspects during the last revision of the EPBD, in 2017.

“We have carefully drafted the proposal so that it has a positive impact not only on energy consumption, or greenhouse gas emissions, but also on affordability and quality of life,” explained Thibault Roy, policy officer at the Commission’s energy department.

Especially the introduction of so-called “minimum energy performance standards” (MEPS) is a “key way” to make “our buildings healthier by addressing roofs, damp, moisture ventilation and thermal conference,” he explained.

Health aspects may also be addressed in the European Parliament, where MEPs will soon start discussing amendments to the EPBD at the committee level.

“I think the health issue is rising to prominence, and rightfully so,” explained Morten Petersen, a Danish MEP from the centrist Renew Europe group and vice-chair of the Parliament’s industry committee.

“I think the time is right to add these perspectives to the negotiations, which will begin quite soon,” he added.

> Watch the full EURACTIV event on video:

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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