Failure to implement law in Northern Ireland and Gilbratar leads to EU legal proceeding. Constitutional problem partly to blame for slip up, experts say

The European Commission has launched a court action against the UK for failure to implement the European Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD) which is implementing energy performanc certificates.

Thursday’s announcement said that the UK was being taken to court for failing to provide evidence of implementation of the EPBD in Gibraltar; and provisions related to energy performance certificates, and on the inspection of boilers and air conditioning systems in Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for the EU said the Directive was crucial to the Commission’s energy strategy: “The goal of the Directive is to reduce energy consumption in buildings and it thus forms an important part of EU legislation aimed at improving overall energy efficiency.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said that the UK was ‘fully committed’ to improving the energy efficiency of buildings and blamed recent changes of government in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland for the action. The statement said: "We have also laid the necessary legal framework to be able to implement the directive [and] understand that Northern Ireland and Gibraltar will do so shortly, enabling the Commission to drop the case.”

He added that Northern Ireland had been expected to ratify the directive before the end of February but had failed to do so.

Industry reaction

Pilkington’s Rick Wilberforce heads up EuroACE, an alliance of companies which lobbies the EU to improve energy performance in buildings legislation, said the UK had a constitutional problem on its hands.

“The Masdar Headquarters will set a new paradigm for the way buildings are designed, constructed and inhabited."
Gordon Gill, Partner at AS+GG

“The CLG has the responsibility for implementation but its remit only extends to England and Wales. It has no power over Northern Ireland at all. It’s the shortcoming of a Government department that doesn’t oversee anything at all.”

Professor David Strong, chief executive of Inbuilt Consulting, said that the EU had launched a similar action against the UK in 2006 due to poor communication on the country’s behalf.

“This announcement was a surprise to me. My guess is that it’s failed to inform the commissions about its actions. In theory at least the UK is on track to be fully compliant by January 2009. At least on paper the UK is in the vanguard. What happens after that is a different matter.”

The EU launched an action against Belgium in the same announcement and, in the past, has threatened other countries, including France, Luxembourg and Latvia.

In January Greece became the first state to be found guilty by the European Court of Justice for implementation failure although there will be no penalty to the country unless a second case is brought.

The deadline for implementing the EPBD was January 4, 2006 although states were given dispensation to delay certain articles until January 4, 2009.