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Five years ago, it took only one phone call from Angela Merkel to water down EU limits on car pollution, reported Politico (Germany).
This week, despite a full-court press by the German government backed by allies in Central Europe and the powerful car industry, Berlin failed to hold the line on what it considered acceptable carbon dioxide limits.
It’s a sign of the chancellor’s political weakness, as well as of the reduced heft of the scandal-plagued car sector. That’s very different from 2013, when Merkel forced through the looser CO2 limits that currently apply.
Late Tuesday, EU environment ministers agreed to set a target to cut CO2 emissions by 35 percent for cars and 30 percent for vans in 2030, compared to 2021 levels. They also approved a set of incentives to boost the sale of clean and zero-emission vehicles. The measures are part of an EU effort to meet its greenhouse gas reduction pledges under the Paris climate agreement.
The result is very different from what Berlin’s position was as it headed into 13 hours of talks.
Germany wanted to stick with the European Commission’s original proposal of a reduction of 15 percent in 2025 and 30 percent in 2030 — already much more than the 20 percent cut that the car lobby found acceptable. The German stance was the result of a bruising internal political battle that saw Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, of the junior coalition member the Social Democratic Party, beat a retreat from her original call for a 50 percent cut.
But the domestic political victory carried little weight when 28 environment ministers met in Luxembourg.
Berlin went in with the backing of at least five Central European countries — all with large car sectors tightly linked to Germany, whose prime ministers issued an appeal to stick with the 30 percent target.
However, in a week when the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a stark warning that the world has little chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees without immediate and radical changes, and hours after a German court ruled that Berlin could ban diesel vehicles to reduce air pollution, Germany was unable to stick with its position.
A group of more ambitious countries wanted to cut CO2 pollution by as much as 40 percent — mirroring the position taken by the European Parliament last week.
Faced with that even more unpalatable prospect, Germany shifted. It was joined by France, which climbed down from its original ambitious goal, and the two nations settled on the 35 percent compromise suggested by the Austrian Council presidency. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic also switched position thanks to measures that would boost local electric car sales and lure investment for car factories.
“The Visegrad Group really stuck together and got through a lot of their demands,” said Sweden’s Environment Minister Karolina Skog. “There were things happening outside the room.”
As a sop to France, the Council’s final text includes a 2023 review of the 2030 target and also extends the scope of the targets to 2040. “The French caved in for assurances on a review,” said one diplomat in the room during the talks.
Anger all around
The final compromise left all sides upset.
The car industry is enraged, warning of job cuts and dislocation. “In no part of the world are comparable goals in sight,” said Bernhard Mattes from Germany’s Association of the Automotive Industry. “This means that the European automotive industry will be more heavily exposed to international competition than its competitors.”
The more ambitious countries are also angry. Members such as the Netherlands, Ireland, the U.K. and Sweden sided with Parliament’s stance. They issued a protest declaration about the result.
he Central Europeans came out on top. The final Council deal would give car manufacturers additional incentives to sell e-vehicles in markets with fewer battery-powered cars. That was key to getting the Central Europeans onside.
“The point is to stimulate producers to also think of more affordable zero- and low-emission models,” said one diplomat from a Central European country. “This way we could achieve a faster deployment of clean mobility and on a much larger scale.”
The rule will also benefit countries like Ireland and Denmark, which have a relatively low share of electric vehicles.
Equally important for the eastern alliance was maintaining a derogation in the draft law for carmakers producing less than 300,000 vehicles a year. That will cover Jaguar Land Rover, which is building a new plant at Nitra, Slovakia.
Julia Poliscanova, from the NGO from Transport & Environment, argued this will position countries to soak up any premium car production that shifts out of the U.K. after Brexit.
Talks start with the European Parliament on the final draft with a view to getting it approved by next year.
After all the horse-trading, Merkel, speaking in Berlin, called the result “acceptable.”
That’s a far cry from her arm-twisting success in 2013.
show source https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-car-emissions-pollution-how-germany-lost-battle/