Despite months of preparatory negotiations between the Hungarian government and the European Commission, the Hungarian public has only two weeks in August to participate in the public consultation on the extensive 67-page draft REPowerEU chapter before it’s submitted to the European Commission by 31 August.
Alexa Botar, climate and energy programme director, MTVSZ (Hungary) | 7 August 2023
The fiasco of the Recovery and Resilience Facility’s (RRF) residential solar grant programme, worth EUR 520 million, has already shown the consequences of minimal consultation and the failure to take full and timely account of comments from the public, solar companies and civil society organisations in the process.
The prime minister’s office is now calling for a public consultation on the massive draft REPowerEU chapter (total EUR 6.9 billion, of which EUR 5.5 billion from the RRF), which is ten times larger than the RRF residential solar grant programme, to be completed in a very short time. Although the draft provides a positive example of a EUR 583 million investment programme for energy renovation (efficiency and renewables) in the residential sector, relevant stakeholders (the future implementers of the programme, the target groups) are concerned that the lack of sufficient consultation time could lead to delays, sidelining of the programme or implementation problems similar to those experienced with the RRF residential solar grant. Holding such consultations during a short two-week period in the middle of summer seems inappropriate for this crucial issue.
Besides positive investments such as the residential energy efficiency programme mentioned above, the draft also includes some fossil fuel investments. Of the EUR 5.5 billion RRF funding, the government plans to allocate over EUR 598 million to fossil fuel infrastructure, such as gas network capacity expansion, gas storage investments, and increasing oil pipeline capacity and refinery flexibility. In addition, a further EUR 624 million is earmarked for ‘green economy/technology’ investments, which could unfortunately prolong the country’s fossil fuel dependency, including support for carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), an end-of-pipe pseudo-solution.
To achieve a sustainable and significant reduction in household energy bills, it’s essential and urgent to renovate at least 2.6 million energy-wasting and inefficient Hungarian homes. This requires the renovation of an average of 130,000 to140,000 homes per year until 2030. However, the government’s plan to support such renovations with only EUR 582.4 million from the REPowerEU plan (enabling the renovation of 20,000 households by 2026) is baffling and inadequate. Even when combined with the home renovation budget of the Environment and Energy Efficiency Operational Programme Plus (enough EU funds to renovate about 38,000 homes by 2029), the funding remains painfully inadequate.
Hungary’s civil society organisations have consistently emphasised that the sustainability and successful implementation of the REPowerEU chapter depends on meaningful public consultations. Despite calls for the timely publication of the draft, the government referred to preparatory negotiations with the European Commission as an excuse for its delay in publishing. Six organisations jointly sent a letter to Minister Navracsics’s cabinet and his RRF State Secretariat (responsible for the Hungarian RRF and REPowerEU chapter), urging them to open the public consultation in September or extend it through that month. The organisations are still waiting for a response. Such a short consultation period in the middle of the summer could be viewed negatively not only by the Hungarian public, but also by the European Commission.
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