Verheugen raises doubts about EU car pollution targets


EU industry commissioner Günter Verheugen has signalled that the European Commission may need to make more concessions on its green proposal for cars, as the automobile industry appears unlikely to start producing more environmentally friendly cars by 2012.

Mr Verheugen told the German newspaper Handelsblatt in a recent interview that, while he "fully" supports the commission's plan, he thinks "the European automobile industry will [only] be able to meet the target without great difficulty from 2015."

As part of a broad set of initiatives to fight climate change, the EU executive proposed an overall target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by cars sold in Europe to an average of 120 grams per kilometre by 2012. The current average across manufacturers is 160g/km. The package includes a system of penalties for car makers who fail to reach the limits, with a charge of 20 per extra gram of CO2 per car, with the penalties rising to 95 by 2015.

The German commissioner suggested that his colleagues in the commission are well aware that "not all new cars will meet these standards" by the adopted deadline and referred to calls in the European Parliament for its postponement by three years. "The commission has to get it into its head that we have to reach a sensible compromise" - Mr Verheugen argued.

His Greek colleague in charge of environment, Stavros Dimas, also appeared to soften his approach towards car manufacturers in an interview with the same newspaper in April. Amid a row between Germany and France on how the car industry should distribute the ambitious green targets, Mr Dimas said it should be up to member states to agree on a workable compromise, as long as the overall target is maintained.

The move was viewed as a friendly gesture towards the German car-makers, predominantly producing larger luxury and less environmentally friendly cars - such as Porsche, BMW and Audi - who have been arguing that they are being unfairly hit by Brussels' target.

However, it remains unclear whether flexibility on burden-sharing could boost the chances of a compromise between Germany and countries producing smaller and greener cars - mainly France and Italy.

The complicated package is currently being debated by MEPs, with the leading euro-deputies trying to reach a deal with member states in order to make the legislative process go faster.