Court tells EU Commission it can′t let cars spew more greenhouse gasses | News | DW | 13.12.2018
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Court tells EU Commission it can't let cars spew more greenhouse gasses

The European Commission overreached its authority by loosening emissions standards, a court ruled. Paris, Madrid and Brussels argued they could not enact clear air standards if the Commission's plan stayed in place.

Three European capitals have won a legal battle with the European Commission after it tried to make emissions limits for cars and vans less stringent.

Paris, Brussels and Madrid brought the legal action against the Commission, claiming its standards were not demanding enough of manufacturers.

The General Court in Luxembourg sided with the capitals on Thursday, ruling the Commission did not have the power to change the emissions limits as it had done.

"The General Court upholds the actions brought by the cities of Paris, Brussels and Madrid and annuls in part the Commission's regulations setting excessively high oxides of nitrogen emission limits for the tests for new light passenger and commercial vehicles," the court said in a statement.

The Commission had increased the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) allowed in emissions to give automakers more time to adapt to new tests. 

But the cities were worried the change would cause more pollution, harming people's health, and argued the change went against EU human rights and other laws. 

The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg

The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg

How 'dieselgate put testing on the roads'

The dieselgate emissions scandal, in which many cars activated their emissions controls only when they were undergoing laboratory tests, led to pressure for emissions testing to take place under "real-life" conditions. 

In 2016, the Commission introduced a regulation setting out the rules for the new real driving emissions (RDE) tests and what the permitted emissions limits should be.

It based the limits on the Euro 6 standard, which is the EU's general limit for emissions from cars.

Read more: EU car sales slump as new test cycle kicks in 

Euro 6 states NOx emissions may not exceed 80 milligrams per kilometer.

But the Commission, attempting to give car manufacturers more leeway, said the RDE tests needed to take statistical and technical uncertainties into account. 

It instead set the NOx limit 168 mg/km for a transition period and set a final limit at 120 mg/km. That's where the EU court said the Commission had gone too far.

Volkswagen badge on the case of Golf engine case

The real driving emissions test was brought in shortly after the Volkswagen scandal was exposed

"The Commission did not have the power to amend the Euro 6 emission limits for the new real driving emissions tests," the court stated.

What happens now?

Paris, Brussels and Madrid already have their own local restrictions to curb air pollution, in particular NOx, the court said.

Read more: What will it take to clear the air in Berlin?

It ruled that only the part of the Commission's regulation setting the out the NOx limits needed to be annulled. The rest of the regulation, which set out how the RDE tests should be carried out, still stands.

The court also said "in light of the legal uncertainty which could ensue" following decisions already taken by car manufacturers and consumers, it would give the Commission one year to amend the regulation.

Paris's symbolic claim of €1 for "damage to its image and legitimacy" was rejected by the court. 

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