Tuesday

13th Nov 2018

German court upholds diesel car ban in cities

Banning diesel cars from German cities is a legitimate tool to increase air quality, Germany's federal administrative court in Leipzig ruled on Tuesday (27 February).

The Leipzig court – the highest body in Germany for administrative law – rejected a request to declare diesel bans unlawful.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Low-emission zones – 'Umweltzone' in German – often elicit strong emotions with owners of banned vehicles (Photo: Steffen Voß)

The ruling is important beyond Germany, as it will diminish the appeal of diesel vehicles to consumers in the EU's largest member state – and largest market for Europe's car industry.

Germany currently has 58 environmental zones or low-emission zones. Diesel vehicles produced before a certain year are often among those that are banned.

The Leipzig ruling takes place almost two and a half years after the Dieselgate emissions scandal broke out.

The scandal showed that carmakers had designed diesel cars in such a way that they were clean in test circumstances, but emitting more toxic emissions than the EU limit in normal situations.

Germany is one of several EU member states that is on the receiving end of a legal procedure for not achieving EU air quality standards.

The ruling also immediately had a negative effect on the German stock index DAX – possibly because German carmakers had for so long bet much of their innovation on diesel technology.

Environmental group ClientEarth hailed the ruling as a victory, as it meant that decisions from regional courts in Stuttgart and Duesseldorf, demanding diesel restrictions, will be upheld.

"This ruling gives long-awaited legal clarity that diesel restrictions are legally permissible and will unavoidably start a domino effect across the country, with implications for our other legal cases," said ClientEarth clean air lawyer Ugo Taddei.

Patchwork of low-emission zones

Low-emission zones banning certain types of vehicles often elicit strong emotions with owners of the vehicles in question.

Local authorities who introduce them, however say that they have no other option if they are to comply with EU air quality standards – in place to protect the health of their citizens.

However, there is no uniform approach across the bloc.

Centre-right Belgian MEP Ivo Belet earlier this month counted over 225 low-emission zones in fourteen EU member states.

"There is now a patchwork of more than 200 different vignettes, emission standards and monitoring models. This inevitably creates confusion among drivers, which is even worse in border regions," Belet said.

No EU involvement yet

Last week, the European Commission was asked in the daily press conference to comment on the upcoming court ruling.

But commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas noted that the EU had no authority over low-emission zones.

"We are not in charge of traffic regulations in cities," he said.

EU industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska recently told MEPs in a written statement that the commission was "currently not planning to launch a co-ordinated action at EU level" on low-emission zones – but that it was ready to discuss such a pan-European approach.

'Technology of the past'

Regardless, the ruling will be viewed in the context of the question: what future does diesel have in passenger cars in Europe?

In an interview with German newspaper Handelsblatt last November, Bienkowska called diesel technology a "thing of the past".

MEPs asked the commission to explain how that opinion squares with the commission's self-proclaimed neutrality towards fuel technologies.

In its answer, the commission somewhat dodges the contradiction, saying that diesel combustion engines are "one of the technologies available to power vehicles".

"It is the choice of the manufacturers to produce the type of engines they consider appropriate, provided their vehicles meet the requirements set by the legislation," the commission said.

Diesel's decline

In recent years, diesel sales have been dropping, at least in Western Europe.

The most recent market report of the Brussels-based car industry lobby Acea showed that in the fifteen countries that have been an EU member since before 2004, the market share of diesel was shrinking. (Acea's report did not provide figures for the entire EU).

In the period January-September 2017, 45.7 percent of new passenger cars were powered by diesel – compared to 50.2 percent in the same period in 2016.

In Germany, the decline appears to be even more profound.

The share of diesel has seen a substantial drop last year (Photo: Clean Energy Wire)

According to data from the Federal Motor Transport Agency (KBA), in January 2018 only 33.3 percent of newly registered cars were diesel-powered.

More often than not, they are replaced by petrol cars. The share of purely electric vehicles in Germany is still only one percent.

Some carmakers have decided to phase out diesel passenger cars from their fleet.

Japanese carmaker Toyota and German carmaker Porsche have announced they would stop producing cars with diesel engines.

This month the FT reported that Italian-US carmaker Fiat-Chrysler would end diesel car production in 2022.

Interview

Dieselgate disappointed car-loving commissioner

Industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska often finds herself on opposite sides to the car industry, referring to diesel engines as the "technology of the past".

EU cautious with German diesel plan

The European Commission welcomed the German carmakers' pledge to update software in diesel cars, but is waiting for details on how emissions will be reduced.

Germany to let slip 2020 climate target

Prospective governing coalition partners give up on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in 2020, saying instead they will achieve that in the early 2020s.

Visual Data

Top 100 European places where Dieselgate 'kills' most

In Europe, more than a third of those killed each year by toxic particulate matter - associated with unlawful diesel emissions exceeding the EU limits - live in about 100 conurbations, mainly in Italy, France, Germany, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain.

News in Brief

  1. UK seeks swift use of new EU chemical weapons blacklist
  2. Barnier briefs EU ministers: intense negotiations continue
  3. Romanian minister preparing EU presidency steps down
  4. Finland says Russia possibly behind GPS jamming
  5. German AfD leader under fire for Swiss campaign funding
  6. Seehofer announces he will step down as CSU party leader
  7. EU condemns elections in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine
  8. German Greens pick two top candidates for EU election

Opinion

Crunch time to end overfishing in the EU

What happens when a difficult deadline hits? This is precisely what is being played out in EU fisheries as we approach the landmark legal commitment under the Common Fisheries Policy to end overfishing by 2020.

Opinion

No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected

Following the 2030 renewable target of 32 percent, chair of the European Parliament's environment committee Adina Valean argues in order to reach our climate and energy goals, we need both public and private investment over the next decade and beyond.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  2. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press
  3. EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name
  4. Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials
  5. Liberals ally with Macron for election, but no candidate yet
  6. Revealed: Link between MEPs CO2 votes and domestic car jobs
  7. All Quiet on the Eastern Front?
  8. Merkel and Brexit in spotlight This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us