Holland rejects EU buildings energy law

The Dutch government has sparked surprise and anger by reneging on new EU buildings energy efficiency rules and calling for their renegotiation.

The unprecedented move is a serious challenge to normal EU legal procedures. It threatens to undermine implementation of one of the bloc's key policies on climate change.

In a terse statement released in late August, the Dutch government said that due to "high administrative costs" of implementing the directive the cabinet had decided against doing so "in the short term". It would also contact the European Commission to see if the law could be adapted.

A spokesman for the Dutch environment ministry said that a new study had put the cost of implementing the directive at ¬80m per year, ¬50m of which would be paid by companies and ¬30m by households. "The problem is not the goal, it's the methods", he told Environment Daily. The key factor is the directive's demand for energy certification for all buildings, he added.

The energy performance of buildings directive, or EPBD, was passed in 2002. Member states still have until 4 January next year to transpose it into national law. As well as energy certificates for all buildings it requires regular inspections of heating and air conditioning systems and sets standards for buildings energy performance.

The full implications of Holland's move are only now sinking in. Many Dutch energy specialists seem to have discovered the change late after returning from holidays. The dominant reaction of several contacted by Environment Daily remains one of complete surprise.

In Brussels, however, there is also anger. Europe's growing energy efficient goods industries are incensed at what one called "this scandal". The sector is trying to find out what produced the sudden change of heart in The Hague. It is seeking reassurance from the European Commission that the move will not be allowed to stand.

Early indications are that the Commission will indeed resist. Renegotiating any directive at a member state's request and even before the transposition deadline would be "unthinkable", an official told Environment Daily.

The buildings directive is a "cornerstone" of EU efforts to combat climate change through energy savings and is "being taken extremely seriously" by member states, the official said. "We have no signals from other countries that they're not implementing", though some look set to take advantage of clauses allowing up to three years' delay before full implementation of the directive's energy certification and inspection requirements.

If the Dutch government maintains its refusal beyond the 4 January deadline then the Commission will start infringement proceedings, the official said. Until then, however, it can do nothing in a legal sense.

Precisely how the Dutch government came to make its U-turn remains unclear. However, observers agree that the general driving force is a tide of nationalism now on the rise throughout Europe - especially since Dutch and French voters rejected the draft EU constitution this summer.

Since the murder of maverick politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 Dutch politics have grown increasingly provincial, claimed Donald Pols of Friends of the Earth Holland.

"Cost is becoming the overriding principle in cabinet decisions," he complained. "Anything that doesn't have a short-term payback is rejected".

"Since the [EU constitution] referendum the Dutch government wants to be seen as critical of anything coming out of Brussels", added a European Commission official. "I've not heard of something like this in 20 years", he said. The Dutch move has sent a "devastating political message".

Republished with permission of Environment Daily



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