Updated 7.39pm with Engerer comment

A European Parliament (EP) proposal to set clear deadlines by which buildings must be more energy efficient was rejected by Maltese MEPs from both sides of the House on Tuesday. 

Labour MEPs Alfred Sant, Alex Agius Saliba and Cyrus Engerer and Nationalist MEP David Casa all voted against the proposal, which called for an EU-wide climate-neutral building sector by 2050.  

MEP Josianne Cutajar was not present for the count, while EP president Roberta Metsola abstains from votes out of choice.  

Despite some opposition, the proposal passed with 343 votes to 216, with 78 abstentions. 

Malta's Labour MEPs were among just a handful of Socialist & Democrat MEPs to vote against the proposal. They say the EP proposal is unfair to smaller member states and vulnerable sectors of society. 

“While it is good to be ambitious in reducing emissions, to do this by placing the burden on residents, to not give exemptions for social housing and for smaller member states is unacceptable,” said Agius Saliba. 

“How can we, as socialists ignore the most vulnerable in our society” he continued, adding that the proposal would introduce additional costs for renters and first-time buyers.  

While the proposal does allow for the exemption of social housing, this would only be permitted in cases where renovations would lead to rent increases that would not be offset by energy bill savings, according to the EP.

Cyrus Engerer spoke in similar terms. 

"We should be very ambitious when it comes to the environment, but it shouldn’t be citizens who carry the burden," Engerer said. "We should incentivise citizens, not put a new tax on them." 

Cyrus Engerer speaks from Strasbourg.

While acknowledging the importance of addressing climate change, David Casa also voiced his concerns about the bill.

“Making buildings more energy efficient is crucial to combating climate change and will also reduce energy costs for consumers”, he said.

"While the objectives of this legislation are good, there are technical issues concerning how such objectives are achieved that do not take account of Malta’s particular circumstances.”

Casa's political grouping, the EPP, was more evenly split on the plan. 

What the EP proposal entails

The revised edition of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive has the potential to substantially change Malta’s existing properties and construction sector, calling for all new buildings to be emission-free by 2028.  

All new buildings should also be equipped with solar panels by the same year, according to the proposals.  

The energy efficiency rating of residential buildings is also addressed by the measures, which call for all such properties to be class E by 2030 and class D by 2033 on a scale measured from A to G, with the latter representing the lowest 15 per cent in terms of efficiency.  

Importantly for Malta, these upgrades would have to take place when a building is sold or renovated, or, of particular interest to Malta’s thriving rental market, when a new rental contract is signed.  

Buildings are rated relative to other properties in the same member state rather than across the EU as a whole, meaning those in class G are in the lowest 15 per cent of efficiency for Malta, rather than those in Belgium or Spain, for example. 

While an important step in EU climate legislation, the proposal is not a bill, but instead a finalised starting position of the European Parliament before it enters into a negotiation stage with the European Council at a later date.  

Peter Agius estimates a €36,000 cost per new building

On Monday, PN MEP candidate Peter Agius said that the proposal represented a “radical shakeup of the way we build and finish properties in Malta,” claiming the changes are expected to add an additional €36,000 to the cost of a new property. 

“Zero emissions buildings, yes, but let’s not put the cost of climate change on first-time buyers,” he said. 

Correction March 15, 2023: A previous version stated that Metsola was ineligible to vote.

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