EU Council adopts watered-down Euro 7 position despite German objections
EU countries officially agreed 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.
Despite strong support for the watered-down compromise text from major car-producing nations such as Italy and France, who cited the unfair cost to industry of tighter pollution limits, the bloc’s automotive leader, Germany, refused to back the position brokered by the Spanish presidency.
German Green minister Sven Giegold cited the lack of ambition in the proposal, noting that the rules are “below the current state of technology” and that the passage of the Council’s position would see Europe fall behind international standards on air quality.
Giegold also complained that a provision for carbon-neutral e-fuels was not enshrined in the law, noting that a legal pathway to cars running solely on synthetic fuels was “very important for Germany”.
The Spanish presidency, which was tasked with finding a compromise that the majority of member states could support, hailed the agreement as providing “realistic emissions levels for the vehicles of the next decade while helping our industry make the definitive leap towards clean cars in 2035”.
Throughout the debate, countries opposed to stricter measures opined that forcing car companies to retool combustion engines to meet stricter standards would draw funds away from the necessary transition to electric vehicles, while pushing up the cost of new petrol and diesel cars for consumers.
Martin Kupka, the transport minister of Czechia, a country in which over half a million people are employed in jobs related to the automotive sector, welcomed the Council text, arguing that the Commission’s original proposal was “unrealistic and simply not feasible for us to implement”.
Kupka argued that were the EU to agree to overly strong measures, it could “put the [European] automotive sector in jeopardy on the global scale”.
France similarly supported the text, saying that it was necessary to “strike a balance between health and competitiveness, affordability and the ability of citizens to move about”.
Those who rejected the Council text put an emphasis on the health impact of vehicle pollution, such as PM10, PM2.5, and NOx, citing the impact of poor air quality on urban communities.
Denmark called the compromise text “a wasted opportunity” to preserve the health of Europeans, adding that it was a mistake for Europe to abdicate its position in setting global standards.
“Let us remember that our choices today shape the future of our industry and our environment. Having said that, I will abstain,” said the Netherlands representative.
In a critical intervention, Irish minister Dara Calleary described the proposal as “a variant of Euro 6, rather than a brand new Euro 7”.
Monday’s agreement will now form the Council’s negotiating position in discussions with the European Parliament.
Euro 6 plus
Under the Council’s position, the pollution limits for cars and vans would remain essentially the same as under Euro 6, the standards currently in place. Limits for heavy-duty vehicles will be lowered and test conditions slightly adjusted.
However, the Council unanimously backed limits for emissions from brakes and tyres, the first instance of such rules, as well as new standards on the durability of electric vehicle batteries.
As Europe transitions primarily to electric passenger cars, microparticles stemming from the friction of brake pads and tyres will continue to be released.
Speaking at the outset of the Council discussion Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told delegates that the Council’s compromise position is “welcome” by the Commission, despite the deviations from the original proposal.
The Commissioner, who is an open critic of the decision to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, said that Europe’s automotive sector must work to counter competition from the United States and China.
He cited three key objectives for member states to keep in mind when deciding their position on Euro 7: improving air quality, preserving competitiveness, and putting clean cars on the road at affordable prices.
Green NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), which has long pushed for a stronger Euro 7 on health grounds, was – as could be expected – disheartened by the Council’s position, calling it “a disaster for air quality” that puts “carmakers’ record profits ahead of people’s health”.
“Instead of reducing pollution it will greenwash today’s polluting Euro 6 cars as ‘clean’ Euro 7 vehicles,” said Anna Krajinska, vehicle emissions and air quality manager at T&E.
While carmakers have called for Euro 7 to be revised, those involved in the automotive supply chain have typically asked for stronger regulation.
In a statement, Benjamin Krieger, the secretary general of CLEPA, a trade association representing auto part makers, questioned the justification for watering down the Commission’s proposal.
“Regressing to Euro 6 is not needed to maintain affordable mobility and will neither support implementing stricter air quality limits nor stimulate innovation in the EU,” he said.