France: Where energy efficiency tops the polls

20th April 2017, by Adrian Joyce, Renovate Europe Campaign Director

Whoever is elected in the French elections, it seems that the building renovations industry will win.

Energy renovation programmes have been a substantial feature in the manifestos of all leading presidential candidates – and in the presidential TV debates.

That means French voters can choose from a range of often detailed energy efficiency programmes, in the first round of polling on April 23. But how did it happen?

“The subject emerged in this campaign because we built a specific alliance to make it emerge,” says Danyel Dubreuil, a spokesperson for the Renovons! (Let’s Renovate!) campaign.

A popular front of housing associations, green groups, private companies, France’s biggest trades union and even Catholic networks helped transform state support for energy renovations into a consensus issue, he contends.

Around one third of housing in France – 7m houses or apartments – is poorly insulated, and energy poverty is a resonant issue with working-class voters coveted by both the left and right.

So who is top of the energy renovation pops?

According to Renovons!, which has prepared a handy guide to the positions of the leading candidates, the number one spot goes to Benoît Hamon, the socialist candidate who has promised a breathtaking €100bn “urban and thermal” renovation plan, involving a €6bn a year set aside to refurbish public buildings and improve energy storage.

This would guarantee that the poorest third of householders spend no more than 10% of their annual income on energy, Hamon says.

Close on his tail is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has pledged to insulate 700,000 housing units a year, imposing new energy renovation obligations – and associations –  while establishing a one-stop shop for financing, needs assessments and coordination of refurbishments.

The front-runner in many polls, Emmanuel Macron, offers a less ambitious but better-costed €4bn programme to renovate public buildings. If elected, he has vowed to scrap a one year delay to new applications for France’s energy transition tax credit scheme, introduce free efficiency audits, and set up a target to renovate half of the poorest and smallest dwellings by 2022.

On the right of the political spectrum, François Fillon promises to continue the current government’s renovation assistance programmes, to “amplify” energy saving policies, and to “generalise” energy assessments of buildings.

Even the far-right Marine Le Pen has a minor manifesto pledge (number 132) to make insulation a “budgetary priority” in public procurement policy.

One key underlying reason for the increased interest in renovations is France’s energy transition law, which sets a target for renovating all buildings with ‘F’ and ‘G’ energy classes by 2025.

But Dubreuil argues that energy renovations are also becoming this election’s environmental touchstone because they are a potential vote-winner with no polarising or conflictual undertones.

“It is a good thing to see that the political consensus is now so large and powerful,” he said. “It was not this clear before and I think it is a very good result of our campaign. The question is: how will it be transformed into a concrete and complete plan in the next five years?”

As manifesto-drafters get to work in the UK and Germany, another question might be: How long it will take for this French election lesson to spread across Europe?


Learn more about Renovate Europe’s National Supporting Partner in France, and about the Renovons Campaign.