Lobbyists create speed bumps for vehicle emission cuts

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The general rule of thumb in Brussels policymaking is that one can expect the Parliament to set more ambitious targets than the European Commission, while the Council pushes for lower targets.

In the case of CO2 emissions standards for cars and vans, however, the Parliament’s environment committee ultimately broke from this convention.

While a more ambitious goal of a 70% cut in car emissions by 2030 was tabled by Dutch Renew Europe MEP Jan Huitema, what was finally agreed mirrored the Commission’s proposed emissions reduction target of 55%.

A proposed interim target that would apply from 2027 was also quashed.

The rejection of Huitema’s higher target reflects the gap between policymakers on this file, with MEPs split on how fast to push automakers to pivot towards zero-emission cars.

Broadly speaking, Green MEPs want the internal combustion engine to be consigned to the dustbin of history as soon as possible, while conservative lawmakers see the possibility to extend the technology with a switch to cleaner fuel.

Despite the lack of appetite for higher targets, arguably the most controversial element of the Commission’s proposal survived the vote – the mooted ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2035.

The conservative EPP and ECR groups had pushed for a 90% cut in vehicle emissions by 2035, but the committee backed the full 100%. The committee also voted against a provision enabling the use of e-fuels, which fuel makers tout as a means to cleanly maintain internal combustion engine vehicles.

One question posed in light of the final vote is the role that lobbying played. A report by InfluenceMap, an NGO that tracks climate lobbying, showed that almost all lawmakers involved in the file met with representatives of the automotive industry, many frequently.

Lobbying, particularly corporate lobbying, is often vilified as the preserve of the amoral and money-hungry. However, it is more complex than the stereotype.  

Industry may have legitimate concerns, particularly concerning the fate of employees, that lawmakers would do well to listen to. It is then up to politicians to weigh these concerns against wider societal goals and the greater public good.

“I’ve always had the philosophy to invite and to speak with a whole spectrum – people that are in favour, that are neutral, that are against, so really to speak to all the stakeholders as much as possible,” Huitema told EURACTIV when asked about meeting with lobbyists.

Talking to different stakeholders, from industry to NGOs, leads to better legislation, he argued.

It is a fact, however, that many of the automakers were strongly opposed to the Commission’s text. 

Some have yet to fully embrace electric vehicles, arguing that internal combustion engines should not be so quickly tossed aside. Others highlight potential job losses.

To say that our elected lawmakers were guilelessly led by the nose by lobbyists seems overly cynical. But to say that lobbyists had no effect is naive. 

Perhaps the truth, like the agreed text, lies somewhere in the middle.

Maskless air travel to resume in Europe

One of the most irksome aspects of air travel during the pandemic was the near-inevitable passenger arguments over mask wearing. 

Some may have witnessed these in person, as when a young man being escorted from the plane for his refusal to wear a mask turned to the captive audience and bellowed “OPEN YOUR EYES SHEEPLE! IT’S ALL A PLANDEMIC!”

Others may have seen the steady stream of clips (recorded surreptitiously via phone) of heated showdowns over masks, some even culminating in physical fights. Cabin crew often found themselves recast as impromptu peacekeepers.

These mask-related aircraft rages may soon be a thing of the past. There was good news announced last week for those who found wearing a piece of cloth over their nose and mouth to help prevent a highly contagious virus too difficult.

Both the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have dropped their advice that all passengers should wear masks on flights or in airports. The recommendations came into force yesterday (16 May).

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal,” said ECDC director Andrea Ammon, explaining the decision. 

It is now up to airlines whether they wish to enforce a mask mandate or not. Vulnerable people, or those who are coughing and sneezing, are still encouraged to wear a face covering.

“For many passengers, and also aircrew members, there is a strong desire for masks to no longer be a mandatory part of air travel. We are now at the start of that process,” said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky.

Read the full story below.

EURACTIV team member escapes German justice, remains at large

There is a long and storied history of elevating outlaws into folk heroes: Billy the Kid, Robin Hood, Bonnie & Clyde… those who thumb their nose at the law are often imagined as romantic figures, their crimes a reflection of the flaws in our system.

And EURACTIV, it turns out, has a similarly lawless rogue among its team.

During a trip to EURACTIV’s Berlin office, communications director Chris Powers was stopped by German police.

Unbeknownst to himself, he was breaking the laws of the land. But as any lawyer will tell you, ignorance is no shield from the law and the police intended to prosecute.

The confusion, according to the alleged perpetrator, stemmed from the fact that the crime he was committing is not actually a crime in Belgium. 

When Chris carried out this activity en route from the Brussels office, the police saw a young professional. On the way to the Berlin office, however, the Polizei saw a criminal.

His transgression? Driving his e-scooter without a number plate.

In Germany, e-scooters are required to have insurance and display a legible licence plate, whereas in Belgium, where Chris lives, e-scooters are considered more akin to bicycles.

Powers was told to provide a statement of defence and to enlist the help of a lawyer.

Sometimes, however, justice works in mysterious ways. The Polizei decided to pull the case and so ended Powers’ future as a German outlaw.

In a broader sense, the case illustrates the limits of European integration when it comes to transport rules. Our much sought after seamless connectivity falters when regulations extended to transport modes are so different from one country to another.

E-scooters are one such innovation that they are already straining regulation, with varying approaches taken in different member states. 

This regulatory discrepancy is likely to intensify as we move towards greater vehicle automation, a shift fraught with controversy. 

Unlike other consumer products, vehicles are literally designed to move across borders. It would be helpful if they didn’t render us criminals the moment they do.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Lawmakers back EU-wide ban on new fossil fuel cars from 2035, despite strong lobbying

Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s environment committee voted to uphold a proposed ban on the sale of polluting vehicles from 2035 but narrowly rejected proposals for stricter 2030 targets on cars and vans that would have made the transition smoother.

Tesla puts India entry plan on hold after deadlock on tariffs

Tesla, the world’s most valuable carmaker, has put on hold plans to sell electric cars in India, abandoned a search for showroom space, and reassigned some of its domestic team after failing to secure lower import taxes, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

ECDC and EASA scrap mandatory mask-wearing on flights

Two EU agencies governing aviation safety and disease control on Wednesday (11 May) announced that mandatory medical mask-wearing on flights is no longer recommended but that rules will be left to the discretion of each airline.

EU diplomat: ‘We are reaching our limits with sanctions against Russia’

“If there was such a mess with Russia’s oil, imagine what would happen with a proposal to ban gas”, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV after the end of the EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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