BRUSSELS, Sept 25 - European Union lawmakers rejected a bid to delay planned limits on carbon dioxide emissions from cars in a surprise backlash on Thursday against the motor industry’s efforts to ease its burden in the fight against climate change.
“This was a big surprise,” German Green group member Rebecca Harms said. “There was a big fight with industry and governments, and the Germans and French were adding a lot of pressure.”
German conservative lawmakers led the efforts to soften plans by the EU’s executive Commission for a 17 percent cut in car emissions by 2012, saying the proposal threatened billions of euros of export earnings and thousands of jobs.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has also fought hard on behalf of German automakers, such as Mercedes and BMW, who specialize in heavy luxury vehicles with high emissions.
“We are extremely disappointed,” said Ivan Hodac, secretary general of auto manufacturers group ACEA. “They clearly do not care about the competitiveness and job creation of the European car industry. But this is just one step in the procedure. It is not the end of the story.”
The European Parliament’s environment committee rejected proposals by other lawmakers for a more gradual phase-in of the European Commission’s blueprint to cap carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new cars at 130 grams per km in 2012 across the fleet, compared with a current EU average of 158g.
A further 10g of cuts are hoped to be achieved through measures such as improvements to tires, fuels and air-conditioning.
Italian socialist member Guido Sacconi, who was guiding the legislation through the committee, had proposed a swathe of concessions to industry including phasing in the limit, starting with 70 percent compliance in 2012 and only reaching full compliance in 2015.
Lawmakers said he had struck a deal with the conservative group that appeared to guarantee him the majority of votes.
“In the dark hours of last night, the members added up all the loopholes and the various percentages and realized this wasn’t good enough for the environment,” said Swedish liberal Lena Ek.
“A few of the conservatives moved to the center, the socialists were split and all the other groups stuck together, and we ended up with a better line,” she added.
Lawmakers also rejected proposals to lower the fines for non-compliance to 50 euros ($73.66) per gram/km from a Commission proposal for fines of up to 95 euros.
The Committee approved the Commission’s long-term goal that emissions from new cars be cut to 95g per km by 2020.
“This is a blow to the corporate lobby, who thought they’d done a deal with the two main political groups in parliament, but the ordinary members have thrown that out,” said British liberal member Chris Davies.
The committee’s vote could set parliament’s final stance as it heads into negotiations with member nations to decide the binding targets.
“The Parliament has sent a strong signal that Europeans need fuel efficient cars now, not in five or 10 years time,” said Jos Dings, director of environment group T&E.