The European Union is considering weakening its proposed regulations on car emissions following pressure from the automotive industry.
The European Union is preparing to weaken a significant law on car emissions due to intense pressure from the automotive sector. This move, according to specialists, will result in approximately €100 billion in expenses for both public health and the environment.
The Consortium for Ultra-low Vehicle Emissions (Clove) has shared an analysis with the Guardian and Voxeurop, revealing that only half of the expected financial benefits from the Euro 7 standards for car emissions will actually be realized due to harmful levels of nitrogen dioxide. This dangerous gas is the primary pollutant emitted by combustion engines, particularly diesel ones, and resulted in 49,000 premature deaths in the EU and 5,750 in the UK within a single year.
Clove, comprised of leading academics, researchers, and business experts in the automotive industry in Europe, served as consultants for the European Commission. They were paid to assess the most efficient policy choices for Euro 7, a recent legislation that addresses pollution caused by emissions from cars.
Experts in clove strongly advised reducing the permissible level of nitrogen dioxide emissions from vehicles and making the approval tests for new models more stringent by simulating real driving conditions.
However, under an agreement made by the EU’s 27 member states in September, limits for nitrogen dioxide (and other harmful pollutants such as ultrafine particles), as well as approval tests, would be practically unchanged from those in the previous legislation, Euro 6. The only significant reform is that limits on particulate emission from tyres and brakes would be regulated for the first time.
Car manufacturers had expressed their opposition to the commission’s proposal, stating that it would greatly increase costs for both the industry and customers while providing minimal environmental advantages. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on the Euro 7 proposal this Thursday.
According to Clove, the automotive industry would incur approximately €30bn in expenses to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles, but this cost is significantly lower than the projected €182bn benefit to the EU if stricter regulations for reducing road pollution were implemented.
Prof Zissis Samaras, who is the coordinator of Clove, stated that their cost-benefit analysis relies on clear modeling assumptions and extensive communication with all parties involved, such as car manufacturers and suppliers in the automotive industry.
Carmakers lobbied extensively for the proposed reforms to be watered down. Emails and minutes obtained by the Guardian and Voxeurop through freedom of information requests show that the commission was lobbied heavily by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (Acea).
During a confidential gathering on June 1st, 2022, a delegate from the European commissioner for the unified market, Thierry Breton, met with Oliver Zipse, who served as both the chair of Acea and the CEO of BMW. In this meeting, car manufacturers advocated against stringent limits on nitrogen dioxide emissions and advocated for maintaining lenient approval tests.
The records indicate that the lobbyist was guaranteed by the representative that the commission would establish “challenging yet achievable criteria.” In November 2022, the commission’s proposal largely incorporated the emission restrictions suggested by the industry, disregarding the guidance provided by Clove consultants and despite the EU investing €80m in projects, often in partnership with car manufacturers. These projects demonstrated that it was feasible to make inexpensive upgrades using existing technologies to reduce emissions.
The required disclosure of the meeting between the commission representative and Acea was not reported on the public transparency register.
“The meeting was not recorded promptly due to an administrative mistake. However, it has now been recorded,” stated a representative from the commission.
Multiple sources have stated that the commission made a trade-off by reducing exhaust emissions limits in exchange for industry backing for the EU’s plan to phase out combustion engines by 2035.
According to Matthias Johansson, the head of public affairs at Volvo, implementing a strict Euro 7 standard would mean investing resources and manpower into outdated combustion engine technology.
The commission’s legislative suggestions must be authorized by individual governments, and an inadequate first proposal limits the potential for negotiations.
Environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) expressed disapproval of the diluted laws. Anna Krajinska, who oversees issues of vehicle emissions and air quality at Transport & Environment, stated that 95 million new cars meeting Euro 7 standards will be purchased by 2035. Without strict regulations to decrease emissions, a significant portion of these vehicles will continue to pollute the air until at least 2050, surpassing the limits recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). She described the Euro 7 proposal as a “Euro 6 in disguise”.
Real-world testing has revealed that legal emission limits are frequently surpassed, despite efforts to comply with regulations. According to specialists, the current methods used in laboratory measurements do not accurately reflect driving conditions, particularly for older vehicles, colder climates, and shorter trips (less than 16km or 10 miles), which are common in urban settings.
The resistance from the industry to improving emissions testing reflects the scandal in 2015 known as Dieselgate, in which manufacturers utilized software manipulation to bypass regulations limiting exhaust emissions.
According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, implementing the commission’s proposal in a timely manner could prevent 7,300 deaths in the EU by 2050.
According to Krajinska, the profits of a few carmakers will result in European citizens suffering from diseases, hospitalizations, and the deterioration of natural resources. This prioritization of profit over the well-being of citizens is shameful for member states.
The June 2022 meeting was confirmed by both the commission and Acea. According to an Acea representative, Acea had discussed proposals for Euro 7 with Commissioner Breton.
The spokesperson for the commission stated that the Euro 7 proposal was not influenced by a single stakeholder, but was the product of thorough evaluation after consulting with a diverse group of stakeholders.
This article is a component of a study carried out in collaboration with Voxeurop and funded by JournalismFund, the European Excellence Exchange in Journalism, and Free Press Unlimited.