German Chancellor Merkel said she would resist attempts from the EU Commission to impose caps on auto emissions which would apply to all new cars in the bloc.
Merkel is supporting the German car industry in the emissions row
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday waded into an escalating battle over EU plans to enforce big cuts in carbon dioxide emissions from cars by voicing opposition to a wholesale solution.
"The government will do everything it can to reach a sector-wide reduction," Merkel told a meeting of industry leaders in Berlin.
It was "regrettable" that European car makers would not meet the
targets they had set themselves, Merkel said. "But we must not let the result of that be to impose a general obligation for all cars to be subject to the same measure," she said.
"The diversity of the automobile industry must be respected," Merkel maintained.
Merkel said the German government would do all it could to make sure any goals in the 27-member bloc depended on the type of car.
EU rejects German car industry opposition
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas want binding legislation
that would require car makers to reduce CO2 emissions of new
cars to an industry average of 120 grams per km in 2012. That is because the auto industry is likely to miss a voluntary target to cut average Co2 emissions for new cars.
SUVs, which are increasingly found on European roads, are big polluters
Some German politicians have said they support such a move
but others have voiced reservations.
On Monday, the EU Commission rejected a letter from written by the heads of Germany's top five car companies over the weekend to the EU Commission that warned of the risk to EU competitiveness and employment if Brussels imposed binding limits on car exhaust emissions.
DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, Ford, BMW and Opel say that if the EU plans are implemented, it will be forced to cut jobs or move them to cheaper nations as it copes with rising costs and a tougher consumer market.
But a spokesman for the European Commission, Johannes Laitenberger, said that the best way to preserve jobs was to embrace and anticipate change rather than resist it.
"Normally jobs are not lost when you proactively embrace change," Laitenberger said. "We need to equip Europe for globalization and our industry for the future. Neither globalization nor climate change will go away."
EU divided about emissions legislation
The issue is complicated by the fact that the EU executive too is divided about the planned legislation to limit car emissions. The Commission delayed a decision last week to allow more time to forge a consensus.
EU Environment Commissioner Dimas has said that he wants the burden of responsiblity to lie with carmakers. However Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, considered close to the car lobby, has suggested that car owners too should be required to stick to energy-efficient driving habits among other things.
Verheugen has also proposed that carmakers could be made part of the Europe-wide trade in carbon emissions.
That would mean that German carmakers would then not be forced to lower carbon dioxide emissions for new cars to 120 grams per kilometer by 2012 as required by the EU. Instead they could then buy emission rights from other sectors or support environmental projects in developing countries to balance out their emission record.
EU spokesman Laitenberger insisted Monday that the EU needed a law to limit emissions for new cars, but indicated there could be room for maneuvering.
"What is now under discussion is to debate and to decide on what exactly should be covered by the legislation," he said. "We are not driven by a day or two, or by a week or two, but by the urge to get this right."
Experts say carmakers need to invest in green technology
The dispute over the car industry's responsiblity to lower emissions comes just weeks after the European Union embraced a "low-carbon economy" to combat climate change by reducing its reliance on imported oil and natural gas and promote renewable sources of energy.
But the EU is worried that rising carbon dioxide emissions from transportation will undermine its battle to cut greenhouse emissions on the continent.
The number of cars on European roads has increased greatly in the past years
According to the European Environment Agency, the overall level of greenhouse emissions from road transport has increased 22 percent since 1990 as the number of cars on the road rises.
The European Commission wants to force automakers to manufacture cars that are more environmentally friendly. But carmakers, who say they have cut emissions by 13 percent, argue that it's not viable for them to sell smaller cars or hybrid-fuel models.
Critics however say that carmakers simply aren't doing enough to develop environmentally-friendly technology.
Andreas Troge, head of the German Environment Agency, warned that the German car industry was in danger of missing the boat on new green technologies which in turn could end up jeopardizing jobs.
"If you're too late in adapting, you can threaten jobs," Troge told Hanover-based paper Neuen Presse.
Reinhard Bütikofer, chairman of the opposition Green Party, urged the German car industry to view new environmental challenges as an opportunity instead of a threat.
"The car industry has to watch out that it doesn't throw away its future," he said.