German ‘dirty deals’ kill off 2020 cars CO2 agreement

The EU’s agreement on limiting carbon dioxide from new cars from 2020 has fallen through. EU environment ministers voted to reopen negotiations on the deal that was agreed in June, following a massive lobbying operation by the German government on behalf of Germany’s luxury car industry. T&E says this lobbying to protect German luxury car makers is an unprecedented abuse of the EU legislative process.

Europe’s first-ever set of obligatory limits for CO2 emissions from cars and vans will mean the average new car should produce no more than 130 grams per kilometre by 2015. But for transport to play its full part in the EU’s commitment to tackle climate change, stricter limits are needed for later years. In June, MEPs, EU governments and Commission officials reached agreement on how the target for 2020 of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre would be met. Yet when it came to confirmation of the deal, Germany persuaded the then Irish presidency to take the item off the voting agenda, saying that ‘the issue of flexibility had not yet been sufficiently addressed.’ This indicated its wish to renegotiate the deal in order to give German luxury car makers a longer period to sell more high-consumption cars.

Germany then persuaded the current Lithuanian presidency to take the item off the agenda for meetings of ministers in July and September. This was widely seen as an attempt to delay the deal until after September’s German elections. But earlier this month, Berlin convinced Lithuania to allow a third deferment, reportedly saying it would only be ready to vote ‘when we have reliable signs that there is enough support for our proposal’. That proposal is to require only 80% of a car maker’s vehicles to meet the 95g average by 2020, with the remaining 20% to be phased in over the subsequent four years. In effect this means car makers could keep selling high-consumption cars in their current numbers for another 10 years.

T&E’s clean vehicles manager Greg Archer said: ‘This abuse of the EU legislative process and dirty dealings will make cars less fuel-efficient and more polluting. It’s an unacceptable price which will be paid by every European driver in the form of higher fuel bills, by the planet that will warm more quickly, and potentially by Europe’s automotive sector that will be less competitive. And the timing is breathtaking – on the day the IPCC says man-made climate change is beyond question, Germany sabotages Europe’s hard-earned compromise deal to give its luxury car makers four more years to sell even more gas guzzlers!’

A couple of days after the environment ministers’ vote, it emerged that three leading shareholders of BMW had made significant donations to Angela Merkel’s CDU party. The three, all members of the main family behind the Bavarian luxury car maker, donated a total of €690 000 to the company. German anti-lobbying campaigners expressed concern about the proximity of the donations to the cars vote, and one leading politician from the Left Party said it showed that ‘BMW has Merkel in its pocket’.

EU governments now have to agree what they want to change in a new 2020 deal before MEPs can consider it again. With elections to the European Parliament due in May 2014, it’s possible no agreement will be reached until the end of next year.

How did Germany do it?

Germany persuaded the Lithuanian presidency, which is part-sponsored by the German car maker BMW, to defer votes that would have rubber-stamped the June agreement. It then built up support for a ‘blocking minority’ at the Council of environment ministers on 14 October by doing deals with various nations:

Portugal supported Germany after gaining support for its national debt refinancing

The UK backed Germany in return for concessions on regulations that could affect London’s banking sector

Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary, which have large German car manufacturing plants, all supported Germany.

Poland and Estonia also supported Germany.