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The big picture: More hot air over emissions

So the European Commission doesn’t understand its own rules and procedures – well, it’s probably not the only one

News that the European Parliament’s committee on legal affairs has declared illegal the EC’s law to force carmakers to cut average CO2 emissions to 130g/km by 2012 has thrown the whole debate into turmoil. 

See, the EC, in its rashness to implement a pan-European law, tried to squeeze its regulation under the single market rules in Article 95, which exists to present market distortions.

It should’ve plumped for Article 175 which deals with environmental laws.

Right now, carmakers in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere will be enjoying a little chuckle over their continental breakfasts.

As it stands, they now have no targets. And as average CO2 for cars sold in the EU was 158g/km last year, that’s something of a relief.

Although carmakers had individual targets, few were going to hit them without massive investment and some flexing of the rules.

What now?

The CO2 issue will not go away, but the regulation will be delayed as the process of re-drafting and re-negotiating on targets, fines and start dates begins again. 

Carmakers had called for a 2015 start date; they may now get their wish.

Article 175 does throw up an interesting slant.

The EC was keen to sidestep it because it gives national governments more flexibility in applying laws.

One country could set far sterner targets for carmakers than another.

Problematic future

This would create all kinds of problems with – most typically – the UK taking the toughest approach (let’s say a 120g/km target by 2012) while the French and Germans adopt their traditional laissez-faire stance to EU rules (say 150g/km by 2012, falling to 130g/km by 2015). 

That could close off the UK to the most polluting cars, forcing manufacturers to sell only their cleanest, usually smaller, vehicles and just a handful of their high emitters to keep the CO2 averages within required levels.

The European Parliament officially votes on the proposals on October 20, either paving the way for the adoption of the rules or postponement.

The latter seems most likely, dragging the CO2 debate well into 2009.

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