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24/07/2016

Greens accuse France of double standards on diesel emissions

Transport

Greens accuse France of double standards on diesel emissions

Volkswagen has said it has underestimated CO2 emissions for 800,000 cars.

[PROCHRISTOPHER DOMBRES/Flickr]

French Green MEPs have called on Ségolène Royal to challenge the EU’s new diesel emissions limits, but the ecology minister supported the lower standards when they were adopted in October. EurActiv France reports.

The debate that began last autumn between the European Commission, the Parliament and the member states ended on 2 February with the EU accepting lower emissions standards for diesel vehicles. MEPs refused to veto the decision made by member states in October last year to raise emissions limits for certain pollutants.

France immediately denounced the result in a statement issued by the Ministry of Ecology, despite the fact that this same ministry had supported the proposal three months earlier.

>>Read: European lawmakers back limited reduction in car emissions

Under new rules adopted on 28 October after an agreement between the Commission and the EU member states, carmakers will have to submit their vehicles to stricter emissions tests, carried out under real-world driving conditions, from September 2017. Tests are currently conducted in laboratories.

Failure of the veto

To soften the blow of the tougher new testing requirements, carmakers will be allowed to exceed the legal limit for nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 110%. Lawmakers justified this flexibility by arguing that it was impossible for vehicle manufacturers to improve the real emissions of their diesel fleets in such a short time-span.

>>Read: Environment MEPs rebuff member states on diesel emissions

After the European Parliament’s refusal to veto the agreement, several French Green MEPs demanded that their minister for ecology attack the new rules in the European courts.

But France – along with the United Kingdom and Germany – had been an active supporter of the relaxed standards that appear in the October deal.

“While France […] was among the large majority of EU countries that voted for the agreement on pollutant emissions testing under real-world conditions, minister Ségolène Royal immediately made a U-turn, implying the European Commission was to blame,” said Dominique Riquet, a French Liberal MEP.

Concern over the future minister of foreign affairs

“Ségolène Royal was perfectly aware of this decision, nothing was hidden,” said Yannick Jadot, a French Green MEP.

In a last ditch effort to bloc what they see as a gift to carmakers, the French Green delegation in the European Parliament has made an official request to Ségolène Royal to challenge the decision in the European courts.

“This emissions objective is illegal under the provisions of the European directive,” Green MEP Karima Delli said.

“And if Ségolène Royal thought the decision was illegal back in October, that should still be the case,” Jadot added.

The affair has also raised a few eyebrows in Paris. “What I find slightly worrying is that the probable future minister of foreign affairs should show such disregard for European issues by blaming Brussels for her own decisions,” a French diplomatic source told EurActiv.

Background

US regulators found that Volkswagen designed software for close to half a million diesel cars that gave false emissions data during the laboratory tests. Experts consider that tests on the road are more difficult to cheat.

In Europe, while the European Commission and the national authorities are preparing stricter emissions limits, a number of inquiries have already been opened in France.

But the executive seems reluctant to open any kind of inquiry. El?bieta Bie?kowska, the Internal Market Commissioner, has upset MEPs by saying that the executive intends not to act until the member states have conducted their own national investigations.

The presidents of the European Parliament´s Environment, Transport, Internal Market and Industry committees have decided to investigate how Volkswagen cars could have cheated the testing system without the fraud being picked up at any stage by the European Commission.

Further Reading

French Ministry of Ecology

  • Press release – Ségolène Royal states that the European Parliament vote will not harm French standards – 4 February 2016