EDITOR'S LETTER: A chat with the European Union

Our interview this month with Marc Lemaître, the man responsible within the European Commission for a €260 bn urban development budget, provides food for thought about a range of issues besides climate change.

In September, Karishma Asarpota, one of our contributors, sent me a transcript of an interview with the European Commission. It was the result of an idea I had been discussing with Karishma for an article on a subject close to her heart - urbanism and sustainability.

In Europe, social investing and the environment are impacting real estate so deeply that ESG teams even sit on some investment committees with the right to veto.

The environment issue has become property’s issue. But who are the most influential players driving things such as regulation and green initiatives in Europe? What money is behind them, and how have they spent it?

Karishma’s contacts and inquiries ultimately led her to the doorstep of the EU in Brussels to interview Marc Lemaître, director-general at the Directorate-General for Regional Policy and Urban Development (DG-REGIO).

Mr Lemaître is responsible for a budget of around €260 bn that is designed to help achieve the EU’s strategy of helping the poorest member states and further elevate the brightest research and tech hotspots. And this involves action on climate change and therefore real estate as something that consumes 40% of overall energy and 36% of GHG emissions. 

Several things leapt out at me as I read through the raw transcript with Mr Lemaître. First, it reminded me that if you don’t speak the EU language it can be hard to know what officials are trying to say!

Second, the EU and its new parliament are committed to accelerating climate-neutral targets and this means the property industry can expect more impact via a regulatory framework. 

Third, the idea of helping poorer countries appeals to me but at the same time I worry about accountability and value for money and what the money is actually being spent on.

Fourth, it really brought home to me how much Brexit is costing Europe. Or put it another way, how much the EU is going to miss the UK’s money…if it eventually withdraws.
Mr Lemaître said the UK represents about 15% of the EU’s GDP and so the Union is facing a ‘difficult future’ from a financial point of view and a weakening of its budgetary capacity.

But the needs of the EU are not decreasing, certainly when it comes to migratory pressures or indeed, climate action. And so, the EU has asked the remaining 27 members to increase their contribution.

The interview has provided much to think about, including how to present what the DG-REGIO says on a range of topics given the wide remit of the directorate. And so, we have taken the unusual step of presenting Part I in this issue and a deeper analysis in Part II in November.  We could almost serialise it.  It is, after all, the European Union we are talking about.

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