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Buildings directive: German NGOs pressure Berlin to back obligatory renovations

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German civil society has asked Berlin to back a controversial European Commission proposal to make renovating worst-performing buildings obligatory before buildings directive negotiations continue after the summer.

Europe’s buildings account for over a third of energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Tackling the sector’s massive climate impact will see heaters switched for climate-friendly alternatives – but also hinges on deep renovation projects to improve energy performance.

In 2021, the European Commission proposed to start with the worst-performing buildings across the bloc, 15% of the total, by raising minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) step-by-step. The executive’s vehicle of choice: a reform of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).

Resistance among EU countries quickly resulted in a significant reduction in the law’s ambition – countermanded by a separate declaration by France, Germany and some allies, who committed to supporting a more ambitious law.

Increasingly, Berlin’s appetite for obligatory renovation appears to be waning. German civil society wants the government to stick to its commitment to back the ambitious renovation standards.

“We observe with concern that the Federal Government is departing from its ambitions, which it set for itself in the coalition agreement and the building emergency programme,” said Florian Sch?ne, CEO of the environmental association DNR, on Thursday (17 August).

“A U-turn on minimum efficiency standards not only harms European climate protection and lower-income households but also damages Germany’s role as a reliable partner in the EU,” he warned on behalf of a coalition of civil society groups that includes consumer advocates and social justice groups.

On 31 August, when Brussels fully returns from summer break, negotiations on the building directive are set to continue.

With most EU countries are firmly on the side of rendering the obligation to renovate buildings defunct and the EU parliament firmly committed to upholding the principle, the Franco-German axis was expected to be a key ally for parliament.

Previously, senior German politicians spoke out against the initial Commission proposal.

“I do not think that it is compatible with the German constitution to make renovation compulsory by law,” Buildings Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) said in March.

Meanwhile, civil society stresses that the German government committed to backing Brussels when the terms of government were first negotiated.

“In the negotiations on the EU programme ‘Fit for 55’, we support the proposals of the EU Commission in the building sector,” reads the coalition agreement from 2021.

The EU’s buildings directive also stands to be affected by the upcoming Bavaria state elections, where the campaigning business-friendly FDP has made the contentious law a campaign topic.

“The Eco-Design Directive, but also the EU Buildings Directive are currently in the pipeline in the EU. Improvements are urgently needed here,” said Martin Hagen, the FDP’s lead candidate for Bavaria, in June.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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