October 10, 2018
EU forces car industry to speed up modernisation
On the one hand, climate change. On the other, cars, jobs and money. After a long and intense ministerial debate in Luxembourg, EU governments struck last night a classic middle-of-the-road compromise forcing the European auto industry to speed up its move to electric vehicles faster than planned - but not as fast as a majority in the European Parliament and a minority of governments had wanted. The agreement can be seen as a defeat both for the German government, which fiercely resisted tougher standards so to protect its powerful industry from even stronger pressure to modernise, and advocates of fast action of the kind recommended in the UN’s dramatic new report on climate change. The Luxembourg discussions indicate that report will now be a new benchmark in the debate.
These are the main element of the Luxembourg deal. Where Parliament had voted last week for a reduction of average carbon dioxide emissions by 40% for cars until 2030 – with 2021 as the baseline year – EU environment ministers narrowly agreed a binding target of 35%. This is still 5% more than the European Commission had initially proposed giving in to heavy German lobbying. The differences between the positions of Parliament and Council will now be resolved under the well-honed negotiations procedure that ensues in such cases, with talks scheduled to start today. Disagreements between the two legislative bodies are small enough to make a compromise quite easy to achieve.
Reflecting the loss of influence of the German car industry, whose collective reputation as a honest policy actor lies in tatters after major emissions fraud scandals, the German government - backed by its usual eastern European allies - fought in vain to head off the tougher standards. Bloomberg tells us that Germany did win an interim review of the tougher rules as a separate concession. The ministers also agreed that emissions are to be reduced by 15% in 2025. They did not adopt Parliament’s call for parallel binding targets for the introduction of electric and other low-emissions-vehicles.
FAZ reports that Germany’s environment minister Svenja Schulze deliberately - and astonishingly - weakened her own negotiating position by making clear that her personal preference would have been for tougher targets than those she was officially defending as her government’s position. Her French colleague François de Rugy, conversely, said that while his official position was to go for a 40% reductions target France would not vote to put Germany in the minority. Faced with such statements, Parliament’s representatives should have quite a strong hand in the negotiations beginning today.