26th Jan 2021

Commission rift prompts delay on green car regulation

  • Cars in Athens - Greek commissioner Dimas wants binding legislation on car producers. (Photo: EUobserver)

Painful internal divisions within the European Commission have prompted its president Jose Manuel Barroso to postpone an important decision aimed at making cars greener.

A spokeswoman for Mr Barroso on Tuesday (23 January) confirmed that the college of commissioners failed to agree on a decision - supposed to be formally taken on Wednesday - on proposals to force car manufacturers to cut CO2 emissions.

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"The president of the commission has decided to postpone the cars package," she said.

"We simply need a little bit more time to build a large consensus in the commission on the best ways to achieve the objectives that we all agree on."

At the heart of the divisions over the issue is a fight between industry commissioner Günter Verheugen and his environment colleague Stavros Dimas.

Mr Dimas wants to set compulsory targets for car makers who have so far failed to make good on voluntary commitments made in 2004.

However, he is being opposed by Mr Verheugen who does not want the car industry to be bound by mandatory targets.

Under the 2004 agreement, European car makers pledged to reduce CO2 emissions to an industry average of 140 grammes per km, or 25% of 1995 levels by 2008, but are set to miss this target. Asian manufacturers, also not on target, made a similar commitment a year later.

Mr Barroso appears to be more on the side of his environment commissioner, with his spokeswoman saying that "the president believes there is a need for legislation to meet the targets which are set by the commission."

Brussels will now only in "one of the next meetings" decide on a compromise, representing a painful setback just weeks after Mr Barroso on 10 January announced that the EU would take the lead in a new "industrial revolution" towards a low-emission economy.

"As was the case with the [10 January] energy and climate package, where there was total consensus, the president would like to have the same degree of consensus on this package," the spokeswoman said.

Germany sides with Dimas

Meanwhile, Germany on Tuesday notably took sides with Greek commissioner Mr Dimas - not with its own commissioner Mr Verheugen.

German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel told journalists he is surprised that Mr Verheugen is not ready to impose legal measures on the car industry.

"The car industry is not against legal steps," said Mr Gabriel who comes from Europe's biggest car producing country which currently holds the EU presidency.

"Maybe the discussion the car industry has with Mr Verheugen is different than the one the car industry has with me," he told journalists in Brussels.

Mr Gabriel's comments come despite a letter by Mr Verheugen to Mr Barroso in November, in which he championed the cause of EU industrial competitiveness.

"We need to demonstrate environmental leadership, but there is no point in doing so if we have no followers — especially if this comes at significant cost to the EU economy," his letter stated.

"Our growth and jobs priority must not be endangered," Mr Verheugen wrote.

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