European Parliament backs down over vehicle emissions

The European Parliament has backed away from the first test of its enhanced powers under the Maastricht Treaty by accepting a proposed EC Directive on vehicle emissions. Parliament's Environment Committee had recommended tougher emission controls, but its proposal ran into strong opposition from car manufacturers.

Environment Ministers adopted a common position on the draft Directive last December, but accepted very few of the amendments which had been recommended by Parliament at first reading. In February, Parliament was urged by its Environment Committee to demand the reinstatement of the remaining amendments. These would have introduced tougher controls on emissions of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, new rules on emissions during a vehicle's lifetime, and limits on carbon dioxide emissions (ENDS Report 229, pp 35-36 ).

That position was put to the vote of the full Parliament on 9 March. In the week prior to the vote, car manufacturers launched an intensive lobbying campaign, while the European Commission warned that the legislation might fall altogether if Parliament failed to back it. The upshot was that Parliament instructed the Council to adopt its common position without further amendment.

In the UK, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders claimed that luxury cars, such as Rolls Royce and Jaguar models, could be forced off the road because they would be unable to meet the more stringent emission standards in the timescale called for by the Environment Committee.

This position contradicted the information obtained by Kurt Vittinghoff, the Committee's rapporteur. His report notes that discussions with experts in the motor industry and environmental groups had "confirmed his conviction that the car industry has or is already working on the necessary technologies, so that the objectives of this proposal can be achieved without difficulty.

"The industry is obviously more prepared to implement stricter standards than the Commission or Council gives it credit for," his report says. "That is also borne out by the statements of European manufacturers made at the international car show in Frankfurt in 1993."

In giving way, Parliament missed the first opportunity to test its new powers under the co-decision procedure introduced by the Maastricht Treaty. If Parliament had refused to accept the Council's common position, the dispute would have gone to a new conciliation committee of both bodies for resolution.

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