Mr. Vella, the Juncker Plan has been working for more than a year. How is the interaction of the plan with the funds earmarked for environment going so as to achieve a common progress in the less developed parts of the European Union?
Almost a third of the funds under the Investment Plan to date have gone towards environmentally-related projects. The energy sector is very prominent, as most projects involve either renewables or energy efficiency, and another 5% covers the environment and resource efficiency sector.
And the rollout is fully on track. A wide range of projects are being financed, including in parts of the EU that urgently need development. There are many examples that could be singled out, from new loans to SMEs and mid-cap companies that focus on environment and resource efficiency in Croatia, to support for a circular economy paper recycling project in Spain and modernisation of a steel mill in Italy.
In the future, I would like to see EFSI focus more on sustainable investments in sectors that contribute to the targets under the Paris climate agreement and help deliver the transition to a more circular, and low-carbon economy. Back in September 2016, the Commission proposed that at least 40% of EFSI projects under the infrastructure and innovation window should contribute to climate action in line with the COP21 objectives, and that’s a great start: limiting climate change will also contribute to limiting biodiversity loss, for instance The Commission is also proposing that the European Investment Advisory Hub lends further support to the preparation of climate-friendly projects.
What is your vision for the development of eco-friendly physical infrastructure in the European Union?
The building sector has a key role to play here. Above all because of its size – it’s almost 10% of GDP and 20 million jobs in the EU. But even more importantly, we all live in buildings, and the sort of buildings we live or work in matters – they affect our health and our wallet, as resource-efficient buildings are cheaper to run and to rent. And the impacts are enormous: almost half of the EU’s energy consumption and use of materials, and one third of its water consumption, come from building construction and use.
Most of the industry focus to date has been on energy efficiency. That’s a start, but we need to be more holistic. A circular economy approach would reduce the overall environmental impact. But for that we need a method that covers the whole life-cycle of buildings, using reliable and comparable data.
The green building market is held back by this absence of a commonly agreed green assessment method. There’s a clear need for guidance on how to include wider aspects of circularity and environmental performance in decision making. That’s why we’ve been working with the sector very closely for the last few years, and developing a framework of core indicators that can assess environmental performance.
That would strengthen the business case even further, and increase competitiveness as well.
Stroitel Newspaper is an edition of the Bulgarian Construction Chamber. How would you cooperate with one of the most prestigious business organizations in Bulgaria?
This will be very important, as a major transition like the switch to a more circular economy can only happen with buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders. We need private sector funding channelled towards the new opportunities created by the circular economy. And we need entrepreneurs to live up to the challenge and make it reality.
The Bulgarian Construction Chamber can be a key partner, and we count on it to keep an active dialogue with the Bulgarian competent authorities, stakeholders and the general public. Your broad and extensive experience in the construction sector will help the competent authorities in Bulgaria reach informed decisions on strategic investments.
I would also encourage you to get involved in the recently created European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, which should be up and running by autumn 2017. Its aim is to foster the exchange of best practices across diverse stakeholders who meet in specialised fora and raise awareness about cross-sector opportunities and initiatives on Circular Economy coming from municipalities, regions and Member States. There should soon be a call for expression of interests for stakeholders interested in participating in the coordination group. After this, a website will be made available for the exchange of best practices and for national circular economy strategies/plans. Your input would be greatly appreciated.