Fighting energy poverty still high on the EESC's agenda

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Taking stock of how EU Member States are combating energy poverty in their recovery plans: this was the objective of an event organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), showcasing examples of national recovery efforts and bringing civil society representatives together to monitor their progress.

More and more Europeans are struggling to afford essential energy, in particular with rising energy costs and the socio-economic consequences that the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated. To discuss the current situation regarding energy poverty in the European Union, on 7 October 2021 the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN) held a thematic debate on "National recovery and resilience plans: tackling energy poverty".

Addressing this topic is particularly urgent given the upcoming energy crisis. The Energy Efficiency Directive already provides incentives for Member States to address energy poverty, and the European Green Deal enables European citizens to play an active role in the green transition, while mitigating adverse effects and leaving no one behind. However, Member States are also strongly encouraged to include in their National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) investments and reforms in the area of building renovation, with a view to improving the energy efficiency of public and private buildings.

The Recovery and Resilience Facility is the largest component of NextGenerationEU, the EU's landmark instrument for recovery from the coronavirus pandemic but also to ensure the necessary efforts to tackle energy poverty, said Baiba Miltoviča, president of the TEN section. Member States are already highlighting alleviating energy poverty as a priority. We now need to make sure that civil society organisations can play a key role in the definition, implementation and monitoring of energy poverty in Europe.

Presenting the state of play regarding assessment of the NRRPs, Baptiste Legay, from the European Commission's Recovery and Resilience Task Force, highlighted that Member States were expected to take into account both the green and the social dimensions and that many national plans already included measures aiming to improve the energy efficiency of public and private buildings, including those for Slovakia, Greece and Spain.

Dragoş Pîslaru, a Romanian Member of the European Parliament, in the Renew Europe Group, and a member of the ECON-BUDG Working Group on the Scrutiny of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF WG), presented a summary of the national recovery efforts ensuring energy poverty measures in the NRRPs, underlining that it was important to strike a balance between ensuring energy security for citizens, tackling energy poverty and reaching the ambitions of decarbonisation.

Referring to the role of local authorities in defining renovation priorities in the NRRPs, Claire Roumet, from Energy Cities, explained that the surge in energy prices had had a tremendous impact on municipal budgets, which was where the money came from to help vulnerable people to pay utility bills, reducing their capacity to allocate resources for medium-term solutions.

The French national situation was presented by Marjolaine Meynier-Millefert, Member of the National Assembly in France; she talked about the French "relance" and the commitment to prioritising energy renovation in the NRRP, stressing that awareness had increased among people on why buildings were important for health.

Finally, speaking on behalf of the Ministry of the Environment and Energy of Greece, Antonis Marinos pointed to the NRRP reforms and investments to combat energy poverty, highlighting the challenge of incorporating the many and varied characteristics of energy poor households during the design and implementation of planned policy measures.

The thematic debate, held in Brussels and open to the public remotely, was organised within the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe.