Is the property industry too wary of the EU? The Union has a central role in bringing the industry together. John Frederiksen reports
Some people hold the view that the property industry is too adispersed, with too many organisations claiming to represent real estate. In reality, different bodies do different things.
There are many organisations, many of them direct company membership, that do useful research and networking. All the EPF [European Property Federation] does is lobby the EU political authorities to get the legislation the industry needs.
It's been at it for 11 years, shaping every piece of legislation that concerned real estate, and the key to its success, apart from having a professional team in Brussels, has been that it is made up of national associations of real estate with a broad membership base. For instance, I'm also chair of the Danish Property Federation, a typical EPF member, covering practically every type of Danish ownership, from small landlords to all of the biggest corporates and funds.
The Danish authorities recognise us as the voice of Danish property in the various national negotiations - and what is the EU legislative process if not a series of negotiations with national governments and Members of the European Parliament that are from the same parties that we lobby nationally? A European federation can't pull its weight in Brussels unless it's backed by strong, organised, national associations.
Of course, there's always the risk that these different levels of European and national property associations can become bureaucratic and estranged from real property business and, frankly, that's where managers and founders of real estate companies like myself come in. And not just in the presidency. For instance, Joaquim Ribeiro, finance director of Sonae Sierra, is brilliantly leading the campaign for an EU REIT.
Owners and investors aren't the whole of the property industry. The other components are just as important, which is why, at EU level, coalition building is absolutely key. Getting legislation tabled, or even just modified, is a major task. You have to deal with more than 700 Members of the European Parliament and 27 national governments in all their bureaucratic complexity. If these people see that the entire industry has a common view, they're more likely to listen, not to mention the need to share the logistical burden of all this activity.
That's why, in my view, we made a quantum leap when the European Landowners' Organization, EPF, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, The European Group of Valuers' Associations and the Urban Land Institute Europe formed the EU REIT Coalition and when ELO, EPF, RICS and TEGoVA built on that to present a common front on all the other big EU legislative questions facing us right now: an EU passport for open-ended real estate funds, revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and a new directive on water performance of buildings.
The synergies are impressive: lobbying skills, research capacity, national political networks. All these things are pooled, and we learn a lot from each other. Pulling all those different cultures together is hard work, but the results are there.
Some people might be surprised to see revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive on the agenda when the original Directive hasn't even been fully implemented yet. But the stakes are high - buildings are, after all, 40% of the EU's carbon footprint - and there's political momentum now to get the best possible results.
I see it as an opportunity: if the EU regulation is done properly, with cost-effective measures designed in cooperation with people who actually understand and practise building energy management, we can reduce carbon emissions and turn energy efficiency into a serious business proposition.
The EU is off to a good start, because EPF and its energy management experts had a fundamental impact on the original 2002 Directive, particularly concerning the provisions on energy performance renovation and certification. It's good to see that much of our input of that time has now become standard procedure that will reappear in the new energy and water directives.
The biggest change to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive may be the extension of the energy efficiency renovation requirements to buildings under 1,000m2. That will be quite an event in much of the EU, although in Denmark we've had it for ages. EU energy and environment law is often inspired by Nordic practice.
The work on water performance of buildings is less advanced, but the idea basically is to have water performance renovation and certification requirements as in the energy performance directive. We've given the Commission a blueprint for a directive that would have an impressive environmental impact. We've also made clear that neither owners nor tenants need a plethora of certificates. Energy, water or waste performance should all be combined.
I'm well aware that some people in the industry might feel that ‘Brussels' does too much about real estate and, before I got involved with EPF, that would have been my default position. But practice shows it's a complex question. There are vast areas of real estate, like most aspects of housing policy, where the EU has no role at all. But for the most part, the Union is like a great frontier where things only happen in real estate if the industry really wants them to. The EU REIT is a good example. Or again, so great was the European Commission's fear of stepping on member states' toes, that EPF had to fight for years to get them to investigate seriously the question of state aid to Swedish municipal housing companies, which was completely distorting the market for foreign investors.
‘Less is best' is wise, of course, but it can sometimes work against the property industry's best interests. For instance, in the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, we want EU harmonisation of the categories of energy performance certificates because global real estate investors need comparability as part of their international marketing strategy. They need to be able to advertise, say, that a development just completed in Copenhagen is 20% more energy efficient than the EU building energy efficiency ‘A' grade, and for that to happen, there needs to be a common EU ‘A' grade! But the Commission might not dare to propose that if it fears it could be too much for the member states.
When you become involved in EU affairs, you discover that there are some quite efficient mechanisms for protecting EU citizens from too much Europe. For the property industry, that can work either way.
John Frederiksen is president of the EPF and chairman of the Danish Property