The EU is stepping up pressure on German carmakers to decrease greenhouse gases with new vehicles that have more efficient engines, amid industry concerns about the sacrifices expected to tackle climate change.
German cars need to get cleaner before they meet EU guidelines
There is no better way to reduce global carbon emissions than producing more energy efficient automobiles, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the daily Augsburger Allgemeine on Friday, May 2.
"German manufacturers are uniquely well-prepared to meet these new challenges," he said, adding that in years to come car manufacturers "will thank the commission for introducing new legislation because it will be a blessing for everyone in terms of global competitiveness."
But for the time being, much of the European car industry has its doubts -- with Germany in particular balking at the EU's ambitious emission targets.
Car industry complaints
Cars are responsible for about half of transport-related CO2 emissions
In 2007, the European Commission said it wanted the average new car made in the EU to emit no more than 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer by 2012. Across the bloc, transport CO2 emissions grew by 32 percent between 1990 and 2005. The share of CO2 emissions created by transport was 21 percent in 1990, but had grown to 27 percent by 2005.
Emissions from passenger cars are responsible for approximately half of this -- and all these figures would come down considerably if cars were made more fuel efficient.
The car industry, however, insists it should not be only up to carmakers to achieve the reductions, arguing that some of the burden should fall on tire technology, new taxation policies, alternative fuels, reducing congestion and the car-driving general public.
Not just Germany
Barroso says that Brussels is not campaigning against Germany in particular
Earlier this year, Barroso brushed aside the German car industry's concerns.
"I am very optimistic about the future of the German car industry," he said at a meeting with the state of Lower Saxony's Premier Christian Wulff, a member of the Christian Democrats, in March. "Given that Germany is a world leader in terms of technology and innovation, its car industry is set to benefit from the EU's new regulations, which moreover apply to every other country, too.
"It is difficult to have the support of both Porsche and Greenpeace," said Barroso in response to Wulff's fears that German industry would lose out under the EU's plan.
In contrast to carmakers in other EU countries, such as France, German carmakers, such as BMW, Daimler, Audi and Volkswagen, are still a long way from manufacturing "clean" cars. But to achieve the target of changing Europe's energy mix to an overall 20 percent from renewable sources as planned, the onus is on Germany to pull its weight.
German carmakers produce some of Europe's largest and heaviest vehicles, which industry officials have said put them at a disadvantage when compared to other European automakers.
Barroso told the Augsburger Allgemeine that he was not surprised by the German skepticism about overhauling its car-making traditions.
"For Germany, the car industry is a symbol of its economic miracle," he said. "But the commission's proposals are never meant as wars against a particular member state."
The biofuel backlash
The demand for biofuels has contributed to the food crisis
As debate rages on about biofuels -- which some experts now believe do more environmental damage than the CO2 emissions from traditional fossil fuels and have contributed to the worldwide rise on food prices -- Barroso told the newspaper that the commission would not be rethinking its current policies of pushing biofuel as an additive to conventional fuels.
The food crisis has "numerous structural and economic causes," he said. "It is not realistic to pin all the blame on biofuels, especially in Europe.
"I see no reason to suspend the European Union's goal of having 10 percent of transportation fuel made from biofuel by 2020," he added, pointing out that only 2 percent of EU grain production is used for biofuels.