SDE, Reform split on building energy efficiency vote in European Parliament

Four of Estonia's seven MEPs in Strasbourg: Andrus Ansip (Reform); Urmas Paet (Reform), Sven Mikser (SDE) and Marina Kaljurand (SDE).
Four of Estonia's seven MEPs in Strasbourg: Andrus Ansip (Reform); Urmas Paet (Reform), Sven Mikser (SDE) and Marina Kaljurand (SDE). Source: Mirko Ojakivi

MEPs belonging to Estonia's Social Democratic Party (SDE) and Reform Party ended up on opposite sides of this week's Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) vote in the European Parliament. While SDE's Marina Kaljurand and Sven Mikser justified their vote in favor based on the initiative's righteous goal and flexible implementation options, Reform's Urmas Paet and Andrus Ansip stressed how unrealistic the Parliament's goals are.

The MEPs' parties are two of three potential future coalition partners in Estonia, as coalition talks remain underway between Reform, Eesti 200 and the SDE following the conclusion of the 2023 Riigikogu elections.

"The Social Democrats supported the Parliament's position on the EPBD as we take seriously both agreed upon climate targets as well as the need to reduce the EU's dependence on imported fossil fuels, which is especially important in today's security situation," Mikser said, justifying his and Kaljurand's votes.

"I consider it very important that the European Parliament is ambitious in its goals, because it forces member states to take real action as well," he added.

Mikser also highlighted that an estimated €110 billion is being allocated in support of building renovations within the EU's current Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which combined with member states' cofinancing and private investments will swell to roughly €230 billion. Another nearly €50 billion is being invested in building renovations via the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).

The next MFF — which will run from 2028 through 2034 — foresees the allocation of considerable resources in support of building renovations as well, he added.

The SDE MEP confirmed that the directive will allow for each member state to draw up their own action plan.

"Estonia's government has likewise recently decided to increase support for the renovation of apartment buildings as well as established the Housing Investment Fund," he said.

"It goes without saying that member states' renovation plans and support schemes have to take each country's specific circumstances into account, set realistic targets and establish the necessary social guarantees and financial support measures," Mikser continued. "It's also important to emphasize that this directive provides for several exceptions to which renovation obligations would not apply."

Ansip, Paet: Our votes not sign we're against green transition

The two Reform MEPs who voted against confirming the European Parliament's position stressed that their "no" votes don't indicate disagreement with the goals of the green transition. They believe, however, that the Parliament's desired targets and their deadlines are unrealistic.

"This doesn't conflict with the need to make environmentally friendly changes, but in order for things to actually happen and decisions be implemented, they must be realistic," Paet told ERR. "In this case, considering the current situation in many countries, including Estonia, it isn't. We need to move forward with these plans, just in more reasonable terms."

So said Paet's party mate as well.

"Please don't interpret my voting against a problematic bill as my opposition to the green transition; that would be wrong," Ansip told ERR. "I voted the same way our political group's Finns, Swedes, Czechs, Dutch and Germans did, and I certainly don't consider my colleagues who voted the way I did to be opponents of the green transition. You can find the reason for the vote in the poor quality of the bill."

He said he considers the improvement of buildings' energy efficiency extremely important, as improving their thermal efficiency will make it possible to save "an enormous amount of energy."

Ansip noted that nearly one in six buildings in Europe has the worst energy efficiency indicators, i.e. G-class energy efficiency, and that around 40 percent of Europe's energy use is on heating buildings. Renovating buildings could provide energy savings across the EU of 4.6-6.2 million tons of oil equivalent a year. Energy savings upon achieving E-class energy efficiency would already account for two thirds of pre-reno levels.

He also stressed that despite building energy efficiency improvements that have been going on in Estonia for 20 years already, nearly twice as much energy is needed to heat the same area in Estonia as in Finland.

"Renovating buildings to make them energy efficient pays off, as the resulting energy savings are generally several times greater than the investment needed to improve a building's energy efficiency," Ansip said.

He also pointed out that high energy prices have already motivated improvements in buildings' thermal efficiency all over Europe. "Thus it can be assumed that the improvement of buildings' energy efficiency will maintain its momentum even without any sort of EU directive," he added.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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