During the Environment Council on 20 October, the Dutch rose to defend a proposal from the European Commission requiring car manufacturers to curb the CO2 emissions of new vehicles to 120 g/km in 2012 and called on the EU not to lose sight of its ambitious climate change goals for 2020.
Indeed, the French EU Presidency had been pushing EU governments to abandon the Commission's plans, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreeing last June on a compromise deal, which was then presented as the basis for negotiations at the Environment Council (EurActiv 10/06/08).
The French compromise involved phasing-in the target, requiring full compliance only as of 2015 and without clear long-term objectives. It also sought lower penalties for offenders which are only marginally above their targets and wanted to introduce extra credits for carmakers which use innovative means of producing cleaner cars or selling very low-emission vehicles (EurActiv 01/10/08).
But, according to government sources, the Dutch position was supported by many other EU states at the meeting, with the UK, Belgium, Sweden, Finland and Denmark speaking out in its support.
Only Germany was categorically against requiring car manufacturers to cut the CO2 emissions of new vehicles by 18% by 2012, and France seemed reluctant to raise the issue during discussions, the sources said. The backing of other member states for more stringent measures implies that the smooth passage of the French Presidency's compromise deal is far from guaranteed.
While the French move had been welcomed by the car industry, which has been lobbying the EU to hold off its CO2 policy until 2015 to give them time to adjust vehicles and engines to meet the target, it was thrown out by MEPs in the Parliament's environment committee in September (EurActiv 26/09/08). It would now appear that consensus in the Council is far from assured either.
During the meeting, the Netherlands argued that the EU's ambitious objective of at least a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 could only be reached if all industries contributed their share. If the changes pushed by France are made, the car industry's contribution to reducing CO2 emissions would be reduced by 35–40 megatonnes out of an estimated overall required effort of 100 megatonnes. This would oblige other sectors to offset the gap, which cannot be justified, it added.