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 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.