France has offered what it calls ‘further concessions’ to gain the support of sceptical countries, but these have only made the proposed legislation even less acceptable to environmental groups.
With negotiations between MEPs and the presidency now beginning, France is still trying to push through a version of the Merkel-Sarkozy agreement reached between the French and German leaders in June. The centrepiece of this agreement was a ‘phased-in approach’ which effectively means a postponement of three years to 2015.
But other countries – notably the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark – are pushing for a much stricter deal. At a meeting of environment ministers last month, the Dutch said the Commission’s original position of 130 grams per kilometre by 2012 should be supported if the EU was not to lose credibility regarding its climate change goals for 2020.
The Dutch statement to the meeting said: ‘In June 2007, the Environment Council requested stringent measures aimed at the car industry: 120 g/km CO2 in 2012 (130 g/km to be achieved by means of technical innovation and a further 10 g/km by means of additional measures), plus ambitious long-term goals for 2020. In this regard, it is alarming that the contribution made by passenger cars is at risk of being severely weakened, putting the climate change objective at stake.’
The European news agency EurActiv said there was ‘wide-ranging support’ for the Dutch stance among EU environment ministers, notably from Denmark, but also Belgium, Finland and other states.
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The debate over CO2 limits coincides with a request by the European car makers for a low-cost EU loan of €40 billion, which they say is necessary if they are to develop cleaner technologies. This has the support of the President Sarkozy, who said after an informal EU summit last month: ‘Can we ask the European car industry to produce clean cars – to change the whole industrial system in just a few months – without giving them a helping hand?’
Yet the latest presidency proposal, far from envisaging change in ‘just a few months’, foresees car makers having to ensure 60% of their new cars meet the 130g limit in 2012, 75% in 2013, 85% in 2015 and 100% by 2015. Research for T&E has confirmed what many suspected anyway – that the phasing option is in effect a postponement to 2015.
‘It’s almost as if France is pretending September’s vote in the European Parliament supporting a 130g limit by 2012 just didn’t happen,’ said T&E director Jos Dings. ‘We must hope that MEPs stand up for the position they took in September, and are awake to the fact that the French compromise is not a compromise but a weakening.’
With France keen to get agreement before its presidency ends next month, the Parliament’s plenary discussion of this legislation on 3 December takes on added significance.