19th Mar 2018

German lobbyists test EU on car emissions

  • Merkel on a visit to a VW plant - the German car industry employs more than 775,000 people (Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler)

European Commission resilience to German lobbying is being tested on Wednesday (8 November) as the executive unveils new car emissions targets.

Earlier drafts of its proposal said up to 20 percent of EU car makers' models should be electric vehicles and that 10 percent should be hybrid ones by 2030.

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  • Gabriel wrote to Juncker urging him to water down the bill (Photo:

It also said there should be overall cuts of up to 35 percent in CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2030 in the transport sector.

It included a mandatory target for CO2 reductions by 2025 and penalties for car makers that did not comply with the new measures.

The bill comes in the wake of the 'Dieselgate' scandal, which showed how German car firm Volkswagen (VW), and others, systematically cheated on EU emissions tests.

It also comes amid new figures by the European Environment Agency, a Commission offshoot, which said 399,000 EU citizens died prematurely in 2014 because of high levels of particulate matter in the air.

But that did not stop leading German politicians and the German car industry from leaning on EU officials to weaken its ideas.

Sigmar Gabriel, the outgoing centre-left German foreign minister, wrote to Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker urging him to abandon binding quotas for electric cars and the 2025 mandatory target.

"It is … very important to me that we do not stifle the innovation power of the automotive industry by overly tight EU legislation", he said, according to the Reuters news agency.

Matthias Wissmann, the head of the German car industry lobby, the VDA, also phoned Juncker's chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, and Germany's EU commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, in the run-up to Wednesday urging them to dilute the measures, according to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.

The net result risks being that the 2025 target will be reduced and that threats of sanctions will be removed from the bill, making it "toothless", the Brussels-based green pressure group, Transport & Energy (T&E), said.

T&E also cited a leaked VW document which indicated that the firm would have been prepared to accept even higher electric car quotas, of up to 22 percent by 2020 and 34.5 percent by 2030, if it had been pressed.

"Making last-minute changes to the EU's most important automotive proposal in a decade just to please a group of blundering lobbyists is counterproductive and unacceptable," T&E said.

The group published new findings by the US-based NGO, the International Council on Clean Transportation, which showed the extent of Dieselgate-type abuse.

The Dieselgate scandal broke in 2015, but the ICCT said that between 2012 and 2017 "new car CO2 emissions have reduced by just 2 percent on the road compared to nearly 11 percent in fake laboratory tests".

The findings showed the "abject failure of the current car CO2 regulation", T&E said.

Other states, including Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden have also written to Juncker urging him to take a tough line on the automotive sector.

German coalition

But the shift away from green politics in Germany looks set to be cemented in the new ruling coalition.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU/CSU alliance is in talks with the pro-business FDP party and the Green party to form a government by 16 November.

The Greens had previously said Germany should stop approval of all combustion engines in cars and close all coal-fired power plants by 2030, but the party dropped those demands on Tuesday.

"For us, it doesn't matter if the last coal-fired power station is off the grid in 2030 or 2032. That's where we are pragmatic," Greens co-leader Simone Peter told German newspaper the Rheinische Post.

Cem Ozdemir, another Green party leader, told the Stuttgarter Zeitung and Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspapers: "It's clear to me that we alone cannot enforce the end date of 2030 for the approval of combustion engines".

But the CSU party's chief negotiator, Alexander Dobrindt, indicated the Greens might have to go further if they want to get into office.

"Abandoning nonsense deadlines is hardly a compromise," he said.


After spending €587 million, EU has zero CO2 storage plants

The EU has spent at least €587 million so far on carbon capture and storage, and was willing to spend millions more. However, after a decade not a single power plant in the EU is currently using the technology.

EIB silent on report into 'fraudulent' VW loan

European Investment Bank vice-president Taylor tells EUobserver the fraud investigation into a €400 million EIB loan to Volkswagen had 'considerable ramifications', but didn't want to explain why the report was kept secret.

German ministries were at war over CO2 car cuts

Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel was not the only German government official trying to water down an EU draft bill on CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles last year. In fact, three Berlin ministries were contradicting each other behind the scenes.

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