Diplomat: Germany ‘dictated’ delay to CO2 in cars deal

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German diktats to the Irish EU presidency are responsible for freezing a hard-fought deal to cap emissions from Europe’s cars by 2020, which was set to be rubber-stamped at the European summit, diplomatic sources say.

Earlier this week, the proposal to limit passenger car emissions to 95 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) was hailed by the Irish environment minister Phil Hogan as “a win-win for climate, consumers, innovation and jobs.”

But in scenes that campaigners called “unprecedented”, the vote was delayed indefinitely yesterday (27 June), and must now be addressed by Lithuania, which takes on the six-month rotating EU Council Presidency on 1 July.

“The way it happened was highly unusual in that it was the result of high level contacts,” one diplomat told EURACTIV. “The choice of the [Irish] presidency was dictated to them.”

The source confirmed press reports that Chancellor Merkel called Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny over the issue the night before the summit of EU leaders, which opened in Brussels yesterday (27 June).

“The presidency didn’t stand up to Germany’s requests,” the diplomatic source said. “The ‘right arguments’ were found to get this flexibility from the presidency and Ireland bowed to the pressure.”

Luxury German car-makers such as Daimler and BMW have complained that the proposed targets unfairly singled them out. At 147 g/km on average, emissions from Germany’s car industry are 15g/km higher than the EU median, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Clean car campaigners say that Berlin is playing for time until Croatia’s accession to the EU on 1 July brings it closer to a blocking minority at the EU Council of Ministers, which represents the member states. But as yesterday’s vote was merely indicative, Zagreb would still have had a say in any final Council decision.

Countries such as Poland and the UK are widely believed to have supported the German demand for postponing the vote. EURACTIV understands that a few minutes before the delay was announced, France also adopted this position, following high-level – but not prime ministerial – German-Franco contacts.

“They told France that they needed this delay, and promised to use it to explain the deal to their manufacturers and not to build a blocking minority,” an EU source said.

Green scepticism

Green campaigners though were sceptical of Germany’s motives, with Transport & Environment’s Greg Archer lambasting what he called “an attempt to overturn a fairly-negotiated agreement between the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council itself.”

He went on: “It is ludicrous for Germany to claim it needs more time, as the 95g target was agreed five years ago and Germany has already put forward five different proposals that have been rejected by the vast majority of EU countries.”

EU states last week rejected German efforts to allow ‘super-credits’ for low carbon cars to be banked for a further three years after 2020. In practice, environmentalists say this would simply have extended the deadline for compliance until 2023.

But speaking to EURACTIV earlier this year, Ivan Hoda?, the secretary-general of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), said the credits would “give industry an incentive to put the cleanest possible vehicles on the market.”

Low carbon cars were “extremely expensive to develop, the market intake is not easy and there’s no incentive financially from governments or the EU,” he said. ”So as an incentive to the industry for developing these vehicles, we see the super-credits as being one of the best means for doing that.”

A Ricardo-AEA report published earlier this week found that a 95g target unabated by super-credits would create about 500,000 jobs by 2030.

Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said: “It’s consumers who will pay the price for this last-minute scuppering of the deal on car CO2 emissions. Consumers have been let down by the Council bowing to tremendous pressure from Germany. Shelving this today risks a scaling back of ambitions for an eventual agreement on CO2 limits. At the end of the day, this means fewer fuel cost savings for consumers. This last-minute intervention at the highest political level is a clear case of the concerns of a handful of companies taking precedence over consumers’ interests.”

Delegates from the European Parliament and member states agreed a compromise deal on 24 June 2013 to enforce stricter rules on carbon dioxide emissions for all new EU automobiles from 2020.

The outline agreement on implementing a target of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre (g/km), still needed the official endorsement of EU member states.

The EU's Irish presidency backed the deal, saying that it struck the right balance between environmental ambition and economic considerations.

"This agreement clearly represents a win-win for climate, consumers, innovation and jobs and provides another important step towards a competitive, low-carbon economy," Irish Environment Minister Phil Hogan said in a statement.

  • 1 July 2013: Lithuania takes over the presidency of the EU, and will deal with the CO2 in cars file
  • 2014: Proposed deadline for EU decision on 2025/2030 targets
  • 2015: 130 grams of CO2 per km target to be enforced across Europe
  • 2020: Proposed deadline for 95g/km target for cars
  • 2025: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050
  • 2030: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 205

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