Commissioner: “protected heritage can be exempted from Green Deal’s measurements”

Position of heritage in EU's sustainability plan almost got lost in translation - By Christian Pfeiffer

European Commissioner Frans Timmermans: "Brussels will not tell you that you can't sell your house if it is not renovated." Image: Georges Boulougouris/EU

Cultural heritage can be exempted from the measures stemming from the European Union’s ambition to be energy neutral by 2050. This was stated earlier by European Commissioner Frans Timmermans when presenting the EU’s plans. The point almost got lost in translation when Timmermans suddenly changed to Italian, and the translator missed the statement. This week it was confirmed that heritage can be exempted by the spokesman for Timmermans after inquiries from the European Heritage Tribune.

The measures to achieve a climate-neutral European Union were launched two years ago under the banner of the European Green Deal. The deal includes a package of measures to gradually phase out the emissions of the member states of the union. It is vital to make quick progress in for example making the existing housing stock more sustainable. Since the war in Ukraine, the urgency has only increased due to the EU’s dependence on Russian gas. Europe is in a hurry. Concrete developments are now in place and are moving forward quickly.

Buildings are responsible for 40 percent of European energy consumption and over 35 percent of energy-related greenhouse gases. More than a third of European buildings will be 50 years old and three-quarters are labelled as energy inefficient.

Lost in translation

“Changes in this sector are too slow. And the urgency to get started with the renovation is enormous”, stated European Commissioner Frans Timmermans at the press conference in December 2021 (video time code 02:47). However, when Timmermans switched during his talk from English to Italian to address some more details, the translater was surprised by the switch. In his attempt to pick up what Timmermans was saying, the translator accidentally left out the crucial bit of information about cultural heritage and its special position. Now, a spokesperson of Timmermans confirmed that heritage can be exempt from the Green Deal.

A Brussels bureaucrat won’t seize your house if it is not renovated

Frans Timmermans

Everyone will have to deal with the measures that Europe is going to take to tackle this problem. “Energy labels will be mandatory for all buildings and every building with an energy label G, which is about 15 percent of the total, must have at least an energy label F by 2030 and label E by 2033″, Timmermans said. This means that the clock is ticking for millions of buildings in the EU.

The huge energy backlogs should be caught up within less than eight years. Now, heritage can be exempted from the measures. “Brussels will not tell you that you can’t sell your house if it is not renovated. And a Brussels bureaucrat won’t seize your house if it is not renovated. Cultural heritage is protected.”


Member States will have to translate the new European rules into national legislation as soon as they are adopted. There is room left when it comes to implementing these measures into national policy, so there is an opportunity to exempt heritage. What will be regarded as heritage and what will not make the selection, depends on the member states themselves.

Nevertheless, the impact will be felt in the heritage sector, because a lot of work will have to be done around the perimeters of monuments. In addition, the sustainability challenge in, for example, old city centres is enormous. A task already depicted by, among others, Europa Nostra in The European Cultural Heritage Green Paper.