by Nikolaus J. Kurmayer
After thwarting a proposed EU ban on new fossil fuel cars, Germany’s liberal FDP party is now launching an attack on the EU’s buildings directive, which envisages a Europe-wide renovation obligation to reduce the sector’s emissions.
The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will be voted in the European Parliament on Tuesday (14 March), paving the way for final talks with EU member states to complete the new law.
But as final talks loom, Germany’s liberal FDP party looms even larger.
Two weeks ago, the smallest party in the German government coalition succeeded in thwarting an EU attempt to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars as of 2035, a move aimed at protecting the German automotive industry.
The FDP is now launching a similar attack against the buildings directive, which introduces EU-wide standards to renovate the worst performing homes in Europe.
Germany’s best-selling tabloid, Bild, already appears to be setting the stage, warning of “forced renovations” by the EU.
In the European Union, the building sector accounts for around 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions and consumes 36% of the bloc’s energy.
To address this, the Commission proposed the mandatory retrofitting of the the 15% worst performing buildings in Europe, which would be rated “G” on the EU’s energy performance scale.
Under the proposal, each EU country would be free to decide the “trigger points” for renovation – such as when an apartment is sold or put out for rent.
But the initiative is not universally welcomed by EU countries. Italy and Poland, in particular, have led the charge to introduce more flexibility into the proposed law.
Germany, until now, has been siding with those defending a more ambitious directive. When EU countries voted on the EPBD in October, Berlin joined France, Denmark and others in defending a more ambitious approach.
Minimum energy performance standards
At the centre of debate is the introduction of “minimum energy performance standards” which mandates the refurbishment of the most inefficient buildings by 2033 at the latest.
According to the Commission’s proposal, all residential buildings across the EU must achieve an efficiency rating of F, on a scale from A to H, by 2030. Houses with an efficiency rating of A are effectively passive houses.
Parliament may even agree to push for a minimum E rating from 2030 onwards.
Such mandatory renovation requirements had already been taken into account in the German government’s 2022 Emergency Climate Protection Programme, which envisages savings of 10 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030.
However, the FDP is not so welcoming of this.
“The EU’s renovation obligation is illusory,” said Daniel Fost, the construction and housing policy spokesman of the FDP parliamentary group in the German Bundestag.
“Of course, we have to make the building sector climate-friendly. Doing nothing is no longer an option. But this will not be done with a crowbar,” he told EURACTIV, warning against putting too much burden on citizens.
For the FDP’s energy policy spokesman, Michael Kruse, the EU’s carbon price on heating, which is set to come into force from 2027, will provide sufficient incentives for homeowners to renovate.
“Insulation, modernisation of heating systems and other energy-related measures will thus become economical for many owners,” he told EURACTIV, even though the CO2 price on heating already applies in Germany.
A repeat of the EU’s combustion engine debacle?
The situation looks similar to the EU’s proposed ban on the internal combustion engine for which the FDP also refused to give its approval.
A similar fate could now threaten the EU’s Buildings Directive.
“The whole approach is botched,” FDP MEP Andreas Gluck told Bild, adding that he would veto it. It would be “much better” to raise standards elsewhere, such as in Southern and Eastern Europe where more can be achieved with renovations, he added.
But even in these countries, the EU proposal is not so welcomed.
Italian Transport Minister Matteo Salvini recently reiterated that Rome views the directive as a burden for his country. And Poland rejects mandatory refurbishments for poorly insulated buildings.
Both Italy and Poland want the EPBD to be based on the average of the building stock, a move rejected by environmental campaigners who say as it would make the law effectively toothless.
“In addition to the climate policy blockade course in the transport sector, the FDP has now also set its sights on buildings policy,” said Elisabeth Staudt, a senior expert for Energy and Climate Protection at Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH).
In the process, “the European Buildings Directive would become the plaything for the trial of strength in the German federal government,” she added.
According to Staudt, this would also violate the agreement voted by EU member states in October.
“The Council, and thus the German government, already gave its blessing to the instrument last year,” Staudt emphasised.
*first published in: Euractiv.com