Building renovation can be the engine for recovery in the European Union

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At a high-level roundtable held by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Committee members and stakeholders stressed that renovation could help Europe emerge from the crisis, but that it needs to be accompanied by measures on poverty.

Renovating buildings is a unique opportunity to overcome the COVID-19 crisis and make Europe more sustainable from an economic, social and environmental perspective – this is the message from the debate held by the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN) in Brussels and remotely on 11 February 2021 to discuss the future EU strategy on renovation.

People are spending more time than ever inside their homes, said TEN section president, Baiba Miltoviča. Throughout the pandemic, the home has become our workplace and living space, the centre of our daily life. However, buildings are getting old: 85% of them were built before 2001 and 85%-95% of the buildings that exist today will still be standing in 2050. Referring to the need to focus on building energy efficiency, she added that we needed new measures on energy, but these must be accompanied by new measures on poverty, and that many countries still did not have a definition of energy poverty.

A future EU renovation strategy: a new beginning

EESC member Pierre Jean Coulon noted that the future EU renovation strategy was key, since it was a shared process where all actors, including the social partners, could come together and the EESC could play a very important role: This is the starting point of a big European project, the building blocks towards a better future for millions of Europeans, which can increase the wellbeing of people and offer more good-quality jobs. It has the potential to lead to the renovation of 35 million homes.

On the same wavelength was EESC member Laurențiu Plosceanu, who focussed on the importance of raising awareness of the financial schemes available and how they were going to be delivered: Funding is a very important subject, as incentives are essential for the development of this future project, which touches on the immediate interests of citizens of Europe.

On this same subject, Laurent Ghékière, from L'Union sociale pour l'habitat, spoke of the importance of long-term investments in infrastructure and praised the consistency with the New European Bauhaus initiative launched by the European Commission in January 2021, stressing that thermal renovation was a prerequisite that had to be taken into account in strategic planning.

A comprehensive approach to renovation

Renovation of buildings must follow a holistic approach, as it concerns not only building insulation and energy efficiency, but also issues such as safety and health. This was underlined by Domenico Campogrande from the European Construction Industry Federation, who also pointed to the need for companies to be able to rely on a stable legislative framework at EU level.

On the same page was Tom Deleu, representing the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers, who also raised the issue of the attractiveness of the building industry, saying workers needed to receive training in order to upskill and reskill. Renovation has the potential to offer a whole host of new jobs locally, but they need to be decent and safe jobs that offer lifelong learning.

This point was echoed by Enrico Rossi, member of the European Committee of the Regions, who stressed the importance of synergies among all institutional players and consultation of local and regional actors, who know the local reality better.

In particular, the energy poor must not be left behind and for this reason it was important to mainstream the concept of energy poverty in all existing legislation, as Elizabeth Gosme of COFACE Families Europe pointed out.

Renovation is also a complex process, as it involves many difficult choices for individuals, for example on materials, technology and planning. This is why Monique Goyens, representing BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, suggested creating one-stop shops, where consumers could receive all the advice they needed in one go, ensuring that renovation is a smooth experience.

Stefan Moser from the European Commission concluded by pointing out that renovation required strategic thinking, as it could not be done all of a sudden, but needed a structured plan, based on cooperation among actors at all levels, including social partners and civil society organisations, and had to tap into the potential of digitalisation as an enabling tool.

Current state of play

In order to increase energy gains and economic growth, the European Commission put forward a new strategy on building renovation in October 2020. The aim is to at least double annual energy renovation rates in the next ten years.

This wave of renovations in the EU is meant to improve the quality of life of European citizens, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create up to 160 000 additional green jobs in the construction sector.

The EESC is currently putting together an opinion on this matter, which is due to be discussed at its February plenary session.