December 6. 2023. 6:54

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Euro 7: A choice between economic strength or health?

European leaders moved on Monday (25 September) to water down new car pollution standards, known as Euro 7, arguing that the economic impact of the rules, designed to protect human health by improving air quality, is too great for the car industry to bear.

Given the indignation from carmakers over the extra expense involved in making the changes tabled by the Commission – costs that would be passed on to the consumer – the decision may seem sensible from a market perspective.

Indeed, most of the countries in favour of a weaker text, notably the club of eight like-minded nations led by Czechia and including France and Italy, cited potential job losses and poorer international competitiveness in justifying their stance.

The contrary argument, however, is that pollution from vehicles – such as fine particles (PM10, PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) – contributes to a range of health issues, such as lung cancer and heart disease.

And even though we are transitioning to electric vehicles, petrol and diesel vehicles will remain on the roads for decades to come – even more so in poorer parts of the world.

According to a study by the US non-profit group the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), the failure to enact the Commission’s Euro 7 proposal from 1 July 2025 will lead to an extra 7,500 premature deaths in Europe (defined as deaths from causes other than old age).

So, what is a premature death worth when measured against economic interests? This may seem like the realm of abstract philosophy, but with Euro 7 our elected officials are tasked with making such a calculation.

Much of legislation is a delicate trade-off between what is in the best interests of the individual and the overarching demands of our society.

Food production standards, road safety rules, air quality limits – legislation governing these issues is made in the knowledge that overly exacting standards would be too costly, too difficult, and ultimately too constraining.

Rather, policymakers look to strike the balance between ensuring high standards while not unduly encumbering economic activity and everyday life.

In these instances, the philosophical becomes something tangible: How many cases of food poisoning are acceptable? Or car accidents? Or respiratory deaths?

When it came to watering down Euro 7’s pollution standards, the justification for doing so was framed in simple terms by ministers at Monday’s Council meeting.

It was the “realistic” thing to do. It was “pragmatic” given Europe’s economic reliance on the automotive industry. It was a “sensible” decision.

To disrupt the automotive industry would lead to a much worse outcome, with widespread job losses, it was insinuated.

But to use such language – realism, pragmatism, sensibleness – covers what is quite a brutal reality: that Europe is willing to accept several thousand premature deaths so long as the bloc’s car sector remains strong in the face of global competition.

It is, in essence, not “realistic” to expect people to be able to walk along a traffic-clogged urban street (Rue de la Loi in Brussels comes to mind) without inhaling pollutants.

The discomfort of asthmatics and others with respiratory issues in traffic-heavy urban areas is in fact part and parcel of Europe’s “pragmatism”.

And it is “sensible” to condemn thousands (according to the ICCT study) to an early grave in the name of Europe’s global market share and national GDP.

Balancing the economic might of the continent, which has a massive impact on the well-being of individuals, with the need to tangibly protect health is not an easy feat. These are unquestionably difficult decisions to make. But our leaders must be clear in what they mean when easily justifying their stance as “realistic” and “pragmatic”.

New German road toll to support railway infrastructure

That Germany’s state-owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) is in trouble is a truth well known to anyone who has tried to travel the country by train over the last few years.

Accordingly, earlier this month Germany’s transport minister Volker Wissing (FDP/Renew Europe) proudly announced an “unprecedented” investment package for the company: €40 billion more for DB up to 2027, and 40 key routes to be modernised by 2030, the announcement went.

But where does this money come from? Partly, it will come from new CO2 road tolls for trucks, which will equal a carbon price of €200 per tonne of CO2.

Naturally, this received a much less enthusiastic response when being discussed in the German parliament for the first time on Thursday (21 September) – without Wissing’s presence.

Germany would go to the upper limit of what was allowed in terms of CO2 levies under the EU’s Eurovignette rules, opposition parties CDU/CSU (EPP) noted.

“Logistics companies will have to pass on costs to customers. This makes all goods more expensive,” lawmaker Henning Rehbaum (CDU) said. However, as transport costs only make up a small share of overall goods prices, this effect is expected to be limited.

FDP’s Oliver Luksic called the measure a “paradigm shift”, as for the first time, revenues from road tolls will be used to finance railway infrastructure.

The government hopes that the measure also encourages the shift from road to rail in freight transport. And “only a functioning railway can transport goods”, Green politician Stefan Gelbhaar said during the debate.

Multimodal ticketing law delayed due to negative assessment

Cross-border transport companies in the rail, coach, and aviation sectors are keeping a close eye on the progress of the so-called multimodal digital mobility services (MDMS) regulation, a draft law that was due to be tabled by the European Commission in the coming weeks.

The law aims to make it easier to book long-distance journeys in a single online space, allowing users to evaluate a range of travel options and choose different modes and companies to complete their journey.

The regulation was originally envisaged solely as a means to address perceived failings in rail ticketing, as booking cross-border train journeys with different operators was considered difficult. It has since been expanded to include other transport modes.

The specifics of the law are yet to be revealed, with third-party ticket vendors hoping for wide-ranging legislation, while rail and aviation companies want a much more limited offering.

However, we may have to wait longer to see what precisely the Commission has in mind.

Euractiv understands that the draft impact assessment – which quantifies the effects of the legislation – was given a negative assessment by the Regulatory Scrutiny Board, a body tasked with overseeing proposed legislation.

Sources with an understanding of the matter say that the board felt that there was not enough evidence to support the measures taken.

The Commission must now address the criticism and resubmit – a process that will cause some internal delays.

Such a setback is bad news for proponents of the ticketing regulation, as the closer we move towards EU elections (scheduled for June 2024), the more difficult it becomes to quickly manoeuvre legislation through the EU policy machinery.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

EU Council adopts watered-down Euro 7 position despite German objections

EU countries officially agreed on their position on draft vehicle pollution standards, known as Euro 7, on Monday (25 September), significantly toning down the Commission’s original proposal in an apparent bid to ensure Europe’s automotive competitiveness.

New EU proposal will not save the combustion car, says e-fuels lobby

The European Commission’s draft proposal for a new category of cars running exclusively on e-fuels will de facto stop combustion engine cars from being sold after 2035 as the technical requirements cannot realistically be met, the head of the eFuel Alliance told Euractiv in an interview.

Green NGO supports controversial CCS to ensure e-fuels reach CO2 neutrality

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be deployed in limited cases to ensure e-fuels reach full climate neutrality, green group Transport & Environment has told Euractiv, responding to claims by e-fuel producers that 100% emissions reductions are not possible.

France to seek minimum price for flights in Europe

France will seek support from other European Union countries for a minimum price on flights in Europe in a bid to reduce the aviation sector’s contribution to climate change, Transport Minister Clément Beaune has said.

Desperate foreign truckers stage hunger strike in Germany

Foreign truck drivers who transport goods around Europe have staged a hunger strike in Germany as part of a weeks-long work stoppage, describing it as their “last hope” to draw attention to the exploitation they say they suffer.

Read more with EURACTIV

Macron unveils €100/month leasing scheme for EU-made electric cars

Macron unveils €100/month leasing scheme for EU-made electric cars

A €100/month electric vehicle (EV) leasing scheme is to be introduced in France from November as part of the country’s climate action strategy, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday (25 September), though only EU-made cars will be eligible.

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