German MEPs oppose stricter car emissions tests

Emissions tests have fallen firmly in the public spotlight following the Dieselgate scandal. EU tests for cars are limited to laboratory measurements of prototype vehicles, whereas for trucks and buses mobile testing devices are mandatory. [Lets go Out Bournemouth and Poole / Flickr]

German MEPs were the only delegation to oppose the strengthening of vehicle emissions standards in a recent European Parliament vote. EURACTIV France reports

Members of the European Parliament had been calling for real world emissions tests even before it emerged that Volkswagen (VW), the world’s second largest car manufacturer, had cheated in laboratory tests. VW fitted its cars with software designed to modify emissions under test conditions, giving unrealistic test results.

The plan to ditch laboratory tests in favour of tests conducted under real-world driving conditions was supported by a broad majority of MEPs, with the exception of some in the German delegation.

“Some German members strongly opposed this measure. It really felt like we had representatives of Volkswagen among us,” said Christine Revault d’Allones Bonnefoy, a French Socialist MEP, and a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport.

Obsolete directive

Today’s knowledge of the impact of air pollution on human health, particularly nitrogen oxides, has rendered the current emissions tests obsolete. And not all the gasses emitted by cars are controlled. There is no limit on methane emissions from cars, despite the fact that the greenhouse effect of the gas is 23 times stronger than that of CO2.

>> Read: VW software scandal: Chief apologises for breaking public trust

The European Commission proposed a new text, which was examined and adopted by the Parliament’s Environment and Transport committees on 23 September.

Methane tests “not relevant”

On 15 June this year, German MEP Gesine Meissner (Free Democratic Party) opposed several pro-environment proposals, including the implementation of real-world emissions testing.

Unusually for the ALDE group, which tends to be among the leaders on climate change issues, Meissner officially opposed the inclusion of methane emissions in the new regulation.

“It’s because methane is not a particle, so the Euro 5 and 6 regulations (European emissions standards) are not relevant. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should be dealt with in appropriate legislation,” a source close to Meissner said. The MEP was not available to respond to EURACTIV herself.

>> Read: Nine out of ten new diesel cars exceed EU pollution limits, report finds

In explanation of her views on real-world emissions testing, the German lawmaker said that “the European Parliament had already asked the Commission to propose a new method”, and that it would be premature to call for changes to the test conditions. Gesine Meissner had used the same arguments in June, against a Parliament request for real-world testing for air pollutant car emissions.

Questioned by EURACTIV over her relations with lobbyists for Volkswagen, Meissner’s entourage responded that the MEP was “open to arguments from all interested parties, including business representatives, scientists and NGOs”.

A compromise

But socialist MEPs are unconvinced by these arguments, many of which were recycled by another German MEP and the text’s rapporteur, Albert Dess. The Bavarian Christian Democrat added a compromise amendment to his report, which foresees the establishment of a real-world testing system. The report was adopted in the committees on 23 September, and will be put to a plenary vote before the end of the year.

“Now the text has to pass through the trialogue. But with the Volkswagen scandal, that should not be difficult. Without that, the negotiations with member states could have been complicated,” said Christine Revault d’Allonnes Bonnefoy.

Passenger cars alone are responsible for around 12% of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.

In 2007, the EU proposed legislation setting emissions performance standards for new cars, which was adopted in 2009 by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers.

Under today's Cars Regulation, the fleet average to be achieved by all new cars is 130 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) by 2015 – with the target phased in from 2012.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Cars and CO2

Proposals published in 2012 set further targets of 95g for new passenger cars by 2020, and 147 g/km for vans.

Germany then pressured ministers to weaken the target. 

European Parliament

Transport and Environment (NGO)

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