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Carmakers Fight Climate Rules

DW staff (jen)February 1, 2007

It appears Germany's mighty automobile lobby is getting its way in Brussels, as the EU moves its regulatory focus from emissions standards to biofuel use across the bloc.

tailpipe blowing out pollution and smoke
Everyone knows they are harmful, but how best to reduce CO2 emissions?Image: AP

Germany's auto lobby might be feeling celebratory these days, though the oil producers may have shed some tears. The European Commission on Wednesday suggested tightening fuel ecology standards as a measure toward combating climate change.

Observers read this as a sign that, in its battle against global warming, Brussels is ready to shift its focus away from tighter standards on car motors and onto "greener" fuels by having gas and diesel providers monitoring greenhouse gas emissions during the delivery, refining, and transport of oil.

Missing the target

Klimaschutz: Deutsche Autohersteller, Porsche
Germany would rather change the fuel than the motorImage: AP

Because the auto industry is likely to miss a voluntary goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions for new cars, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas want binding legislation that would require carmakers to reduce new cars' CO2 emissions to an industry average of 120 grams per kilometer in 2012.

In addition, the EU wants to limit the sulfur content of diesel fuel. Instead, a new type of fuel with a higher content of "clean" bioethanol should be developed, the EU said.

Merkel joins in debate

But while the goal of the EU is to lower CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020, the German car industry -- and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has gone to battle in Brussels on its behalf -- is opposed to blanket measures that would apply to all cars, regardless of their size.

Angela Merkel at the wheel of a car
Merkel has stepped in to fight for the German car industryImage: AP

On Monday, Merkel waded into the fray, saying it was "regrettable" that European carmakers would not meet the targets they had set themselves, but adding: "We must not let the result of that be to impose a general obligation for all cars to be subject to the same measure."

Merkel added that she would "never" agree to binding limits on makers of bigger cars.

Michael Glos, Merkel's economy minister, also came out in support of the German auto industry on Wednesday and accused the commission of following its own industrial agenda.

"This is not about environmental policy but hard-nosed industrial policy interests," he said. "The European Commission's planned exhaust levels for cars are unacceptable."

The German car lobby has warned that forcing carmakers to modernize their products to meet binding limits would pose a threat to jobs and competitiveness for the German automakers. The car industry is a major pillar of the German economy.

Change of focus?

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas
Dimas is caught between German carmakers and a hard placeImage: AP

The EU Commission plans present its emissions plan in the coming weeks. But according to the Financial Times newspaper, Environment Commissioner Dimas has already given in to German pressure.

Observers say he is now ready to accept a reduction to 130 grams per kilometer by 2012, instead of 120, according to the daily. The difference would then need to be made up by improvements in development and use of cleaner fuels.

EU Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen also agreed with this new plan. In the case of the auto industry, he said he is in favor of an "integrated approach" to greenhouse gas reduction. Instead of binding emissions limits, Verheugen promoted ideas like limiting traffic, improving tires, and cleaner fuels.