The EU directive on massacred buildings is the price of democracy

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On Thursday (12 October), representatives of the European Parliament and the EU27 will hold potentially crucial talks on the revised Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD).

As lawmakers prepare to compromise and relax the European Union’s green building law, activists are once again facing some disappointment.

Let’s face it: the EU’s renewable housing renewal programme, which was originally designed to boost the bloc’s flagging housing renewal rate, will likely fall short of its initial climate ambitions once EU countries finish it.

This would leave European households dependent on volatile fossil fuels for longer than initially hopedThis is an outcome that will be extremely disappointing to climate activists, who will rightly denounce the EU’s shortcomings on this issue.

But this kind of political compromise is also the essence of democracy.

What started as a classic opposition between EU countries resisting higher climate targets and a more ambitious European Parliament, turned into an all-out “massacre” by co-legislators while the European Commission watched helplessly.

The Commission’s original proposal, presented in December 2021, was radical, proposing mandatory renovation standards for the worst-performing buildings of 15% in every EU country. Buildings consume a huge amount of energy – about a third of the EU’s energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions come from this sector.

The EU executive first laid the groundwork by announcing a renewal wave in 2020, with the aim of doubling the important renewal rates to 2% per year.

The Commission then proposed making renovations mandatory from 2030 by introducing “Minimum Energy Performance Standards” (MEPS) in the recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which was introduced one year later.

Commission officials in Brussels usually consult with EU member states before introducing laws to avoid political backlash. However, as it turned out, the MEPS proposal was so controversial that more than half of the EU countries ended up rejecting it, suggesting that the EU executive may have staked its chances.

The 15-nation coalition, led by Poland and Italy, stressed that for the European Biodiversity Partnership project to proceed, the MEPs’ proposal must be scrapped, or significantly watered down. In their negotiating position, the proposal was completely deleted.

But not all EU countries wanted to neutralize the law: a patchy coalition led by the EU’s two superpowers, France and Germany, sought to reassure Parliament of its support by pushing for a more ambitious law.

After much debate, the head of the European Parliament on EPBD, the Green MP Ciaran Cuff, managed to unite a divided assembly behind a surprisingly ambitious position – a position with a more important social dimension than the EU executive initially intended.

Green hopes rose again but not for long. Shortly after, Germany suddenly withdrew its support, perhaps after months of national infighting over the country’s controversial fossil boiler ban.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that MEPs will be able to survive the winter despite all the efforts of their many supporters in civil society and industry.

This would lead to policy failure – housing would remain huge energy sinks, which would raise the costs of Europe’s energy transition significantly.

Future energy systems will, as they should, be tested on their ability to provide sufficient power during the coldest days of winter, when there is little sun or wind.

Poorly insulated homes will increase demand for electricity and gas during the winter months for decades to come, requiring a larger power system to handle the additional load rather than a smaller, more efficient system.

This is despite many expert studies showing that a higher level of renovation is good for the climate but also for people, especially the poorest, who cannot afford renovations without ambitious policies to support them.

But we elected our leaders, not experts, to make these decisions for us. They are artists who try to balance science and politics, or the art of the possible.

The EU’s vague building directives will hurt some more than others, the poorest most. But this may be the price we pay for democracy.

– Nicholas J. Cormayer

Today’s edition is supported by the European Socialists Party Group Committee for the Regions.

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  • October (TBD according to Commission Vice-Chairman Šefčović’s letter to Parliament):
    • European Declaration on Cycling
    • Microplastic pollution prevention regulation (plastic pellets)
  • October 12: Trilogy on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)
  • 12 October: Trilogy on directives for gas and hydrogen markets
  • October 16:Environmental Council
  • October 17: Energy Council
  • October 24: ENVI Parliament Committee votes on regulating packaging waste
  • October 24:
    • European Wind Energy Package: Action Plan for the European Wind Energy Package, Communications on the implementation of the EU Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy
    • Report on investments in clean technologies
  • October 25: Parliament’s ITRE Committee votes on the Net Zero Industry Law
  • October 26-27: European Council
  • November (to be determined later according to Commission Vice-Chairman Šefčović’s letter to Parliament):
  • Mobility Package: Communications on the Common European Mobility Data Space, review of the Travel Package, and review of the Passenger Rights Framework
    • Review of the Shared Transport Directive
    • Action plan to facilitate network deployment
  • November 20: The vote on regulating packaging waste was taken at this week’s plenary session
  • November 20: The Net Zero Industry Act will go into plenary session this week
  • November 21: Forest monitoring framework
  • November 30 – December 12: United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28), Dubai
  • December (To be determined later according to Commission Vice-Chairman Šefčović’s letter to Parliament):
    • Protect animals during transportation
  • December 14-15: European Council
  • December 18: Environment Council
  • December 19: Energy Council
  • First quarter 2024 (To be determined later according to Commission Vice-Chairman Šefčović’s letter to Parliament):
    • Communicating carbon storage technologies
    • Communications related to 2040 climate goals
    • Communicating water resilience

(Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Frédéric Simon)

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