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16th Feb 2019

Diesel cars can break pollution limits, MEPs decide

  • New car models will be allowed to exceed pollution limits, MEPs decided Wednesday (Photo: Infinite Ache)

The European Parliament has accepted a decision by member states to allow diesel cars to emit double the legal emission limit of nitrogen oxide until 2020.

The EP voted on Wednesday (3 February) to accept the decision by representatives of national governments made in October that, following the entry into force of a more accurate testing method next year, new models would be allowed to emit nitrogen oxide at a rate of 168 milligrams per kilometre, despite an EU limit of 80mg/km.

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Beyond 2020, 120mg/km will be allowed.

The reason companies are given leeway is that actual emissions are on average four times as high as in laboratory tests.

Countries did not want to demand companies close this gap by 2017, when the new “real driving emissions” (RDE) test becomes operational.

The amount of extra emissions the manufacturers are allowed is called the “conformity factor”.

'Blanket derogation'

The EP decision was taken under the so-called comitology procedure, which meant that the European Parliament was only able to adopt or reject it, not to change it.

At last month's plenary session in Strasbourg, Hungarian Green MEP Benedek Javor asked on behalf of the parliament's environment committee for the proposed flexibility on emissions to be rejected, saying it “would result in a de facto blanket derogation from applicable emission limits”.

But a vote scheduled for the January session was postponed.

Between the debate and Wednesday's vote, the commission announced another legislative proposal to gain more powers over the approval process of new car models.

On Wednesday, industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska sought to soothe anger over the emissions proposal by telling the plenary that new powers for the commission would provide a “robust, stronger type approval system in Europe”.

“The commission will get supervisory powers and will make sure that member states enforce the rules, so no new Volkswagen cases in the future,” she told MEPs.

'Victory for the car lobby'

In January, Bienkowska had already noted that the doubling of emissions limits proposal included an annual revision clause.

“This means that, from 2020 onwards the emission limits can be adjusted if technology improves,” the commissioner said.

She added on Wednesday: “The objective of this revision clause is to bring the conformity factor to one as soon as possible, and at the latest by 2023.”

Also speaking ahead of the vote was the chairman of the EP's environment committee, Giovanni La Via, a member of the centre-right EPP group, one of the current administration's two main political backers.

He said the commission had shown “a clear commitment for the future” and that MEPs should “take this commitment into account during the vote”.

The EP proposal to reject the plan received 317 Yes votes, 323 No votes and 61 abstentions. A qualified majority of 375 Yes votes was required.

After the vote, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association published a statement about the vote in which it welcomed the “much needed clarity”.

For their part, the Green group in the EP said the outcome amounted to “a reward for car makers who have made no effort to respect the legal limits on pollutants set out in EU law since 2007” and that it represented “another in a long list of victories for the car industry lobby in Brussels”.

EU seeks more control on national car tests

The Volkswagen scandal has convinced the EU executive to seek greater powers. "We have to make sure this never happens again," said commissioner Katainen.

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