Key European Union policymakers have voiced discordant views on setting tough new carbon dioxide emission limits on new car models, forcing the bloc's executive to delay a planned initiative in the sector.
Commission President Barroso finds himself between a rock and a hard place -- again
EU officials revealed that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had decided to postpone proposals for tougher restrictions on CO2 emissions from cars in order to heal a split on the issue within the 27-member EU executive.
However, Barroso's move to delay the proposal came only hours after German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the European Parliament it was time to move from current voluntary CO2 emission rules to legally-binding targets.
"Voluntary curbs by the industry have failed," Gabriel said. "Now we need clear and legally binding targets," said Gabriel, a member of the Social Democratic party who is in the German coalition headed by the conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Gabriel's statement increases pressure on Barroso to heal a damaging public rift in his executive team over the best way of fighting car emissions pollution.
Commissioners at loggerheads
Stavros Dimas' plans have been put on hold
Officials said that while EU environment chief Stavros Dimas wanted the new CO2 limits to be legally binding for car manufacturers, the bloc's industry commissioner, Günter Verheugen, preferred a wider-ranging policy which did not hit the automobile sector alone.
Verheugen -- who like Gabriel is a member of Germany's Social Democratic Party -- is believed to want better traffic management rules and a greater focus on encouraging state-of-the-art technology to reach the 120 grams per kilometer CO2 target that the commission is expected to propose.
A commission spokeswoman told reporters Barroso was hoping to forge a consensus on the issue in the coming weeks. "The proposals have been postponed because they were not yet ready for debate and adoption," said Pia Ahrenkilde, adding that Barroso needed more time to ensure "full coherence" on the issue.
She said that Barroso believed there was a need for legislation to meet the 120 grams-per-kilometer target by 2012.
Car makers under increased EU pressure
Auto manufacturers have come under increased pressure from the commission in recent months to step up efforts to slash CO2 emissions as part of a wider EU drive to combat global warming.
Dimas -- backed by the German EU presidency -- has argued that since the car industry has failed to meet current voluntary standards for cutting emissions to 140 grams per kilometer in 2008, from 160 grams today, it is time to introduce legally-binding rules.
The embarrassing EU rift comes only days after Chancellor Merkel and Barroso identified the fight against climate change as the bloc's biggest challenge.