Is there a difference between “shall” and “should” in the EPBD?

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In the Energy Performance for Buildings Directive (EPBD), “shall” is used in article 9, whereas “should” is used in article 2:


Article 9 of the EPBD states that: “Member States shall ensure that by 31 December 2020, all new buildings are nearly zero-energy buildings, and after 31 December 2018 new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities are nearly zero-energy buildings.”


In Article 2 of the EPBD a nearly zero-energy building is defined as: “a building that has a very high energy performance as determined in accordance with Annex I. The nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a very significant extent by energy from renewable sources, including energy from renewable sources produced on-site or nearby.”


The meaning of “shall” and “should” is not at all the same:


  • In the context of standardization, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) clearly defines the difference. The use of the verb “shall” expresses a legal requirement while the use of “should” indicates a recommendation 1.
  • In the context of legislation, the European Commission uses “shall” to impose an obligation or a requirement 2.

What does it mean in practice with respect to articles 2 and 9 of the EPBD?


  • According to article 9, all member states MUST take actions so that all new buildings are nearly-zero energy buildings
  • According to article 2, it is only a recommendation that the required amount of energy of such building is covered to a very significant extent by energy from renewable sources, i.e. it is NOT an obligation.


1International Organization for Standardization, 2016. How to write Standards (p.4).

European Commission, 2017. English Style Guide - A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission (p.47).