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September 06, 2018

City of Frankfurt bans diesel

We promise not to list every German city that imposes a diesel ban, but the first imposition of a city-wide ban on older diesel cars matters because it will encourage other cities to follow suit. 

Frankfurt has introduced the first total ban, covering an entire city area. The one from Hamburg covered a small number of streets in the city. Frankfurts's ban takes effect in February 2019, and affects all diesel cars compliant with the Euro 4 or older standards, and petrol cars compliant with the Euro 2 norm and older. 

Frankfurter is a commuter city. The ban effectively bars people from commuting with older cars. Wealthier employees, or those with modern company cars, will not be affected. Because of its geographical location, Frankfurt has been suffering for a long time from elevated levels of pollution, and the city - along with Stuttgart - is one of those with the highest measured values of nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide. 

As FAZ reports this morning, more diesel bans are on the way. An environmental NGO is currently suing several state governments for their decision not to act against cities that breach agreed NO2 targets. The next big development to watch out for would the imposition of a ban on cars compliant with the Euro 5 norm - this would cover the majority of diesel cars in circulation.

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September 06, 2018

A fairytale meeting for Macron in Luxembourg

There is the whiff of a fairytale about Emmanuel Macron’s meeting with the three Benelux leaders Charles Michel, Mark Rutte and Xavier Bettel in Luxembourg today. As unlikely as it will sound to anyone under the age of 30, the Benelux was once upon a time a politically exciting laboratory and motor of European integration. Not only did Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg pioneer deeper cooperation — the three countries produced Prime Ministers who acted either as dependable mutual backers or as trailblazers of a more integrated Europe.

It is especially ironic that the same Benelux then proceeded to pioneer the new brand of anti-muslim populism that is now ripping Europe and the West apart. Out of the hyper-pragmatic Netherlands emerged a political novelty act called Pim Fortuyn whose brief time in the limelight became a historic watershed. Following Fortuyn’s assassination 16 years ago, the Netherlands dropped out of the club of reliably pro-integration EU members, killing off the Benelux as a political force and upending the balance of European politics.

It is obvious that Macron would love to act as the midwife of a magical rebirth of the Benelux as an auxiliary motor of Europe. On the face of it, all the stars are aligned. Macron gets on well with all three leaders and the foursome has met formally and informally before. The three Benelux prime ministers, like Macron, all belong to the younger Erasmus generation of European Council members. Just as importantly, the three belong to political parties that coalesce with the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament. Macron trusted confidant, Christophe Castaner, was in Brussels on Tuesday to meet ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt to discuss the future relationship between Macron’s MEPs and the liberals in the EP.

Publicly, there will be warm words in Luxembourg today. Privately, there might be further headway towards the formation of a new and powerful group of liberals augmented by French and other MEPs and accepting Macron as the informal leader of a new pro-integration force in European politics. But, notwithstanding Macron’s chumminess with Rutte, a man whom he might try to push into one of the EU’s top jobs next year, any revival of the Benelux as a relevant factor must remain a mirage for the foreseeable future. The reason is simple. Post-Fortuyn, anti-muslim right-wing populism and hostility to more EU integration are simply too deeply and powerfully ingrained in Dutch politics.

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