Last Wednesday in Strasbourg, the European Parliament did not manage to overcome the manipulative and blackmailing lobby of the automotive industry and did not obtain a majority to reject the Commission’s proposal to dilute and delay the obligation to comply with the emission limits from diesel engines. These were established in a Regulation in 2007 and were supposed to be implemented in all the new models starting September 2015. Also, at that time there were harsh battles with the same vehicle manufacturers and several postponements. Nevertheless, the emission standard for vehicles which was approved in the framework of the Euro 5/6 Regulation, provided a limit of 80 mg/km for NOx emissions from diesel vehicles, to be in compliance with “normal use”, and therefore, not only in the type approval test carried out in the laboratory. But also in real circumstances outside of a laboratory.

On the 19th of May last year, the Technical Committee – Motor Vehicles (TCMV) approved the regulation implementing the measures in Real Driving Conditions (Real Driving Emissions – RDE). This regulation provides a framework for the introduction of experimental tests on vehicles on the streets, with Portable Emission Measuring Systems (PEMS) starting from January 2016. This Committee is composed of government representatives and Commission representatives.

The same Committee also adopted another regulation concerning the use of a so-called “compliance factor” in order to determine “limits which must not be exceeded”. This decision thwarts the legal limits in place for many years, allowing all diesel vehicles sold on the EU market until 2021 to exceed 110 percent of the NOx limit – (replacing the limit value of 80 mg/km with 168mg/km) – and 50 percent after 2021 – (changing the limit from 80mg to 120 mg/km).

The Committee on the Environment would not take this and decided to challenge the Technical Committee’s decision, because it believes that the law has been changed and its co-legislation powers have been disregarded. In order to block it, however, it needed a absolute majority vote of the plenary of the European Parliament (376 votes) which was held in Strasbourg on February 3rd.

 In the days prior to the vote, the powerful automotive lobby unleashed itself. Among others, some members of Parliament were swarmed with emotional emails of employees explaining that, if the EP rejected these measures, starting from “next Monday” production would begin to shut down! The Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Lavia (EPP), despite the decision of the majority of its members of Parliament, declared like many other members of his party and of the right wing that the Greens want to put a plug on the exhaust pipes and close the factories. In the end, also thanks to many governments who worked diligently and energetically with the manufacturers, the 375 votes needed for the dispute to be adopted were not acquired and the objection was defeated.

The message is clear. After the Volkswagen scandal, despite the fact that our cities are suffocating in  smog, despite the 500.000 premature deaths and 940 billion expenses per year, it is better to raise the limits rather than to meet the standards.

In short, the fact that the pollution from nitrogen dioxide, mainly due to nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel vehicles, is solely responsible for 75,000 premature deaths in Europe every year, did not seem to be a compelling argument for 323 members of Parliament. This includes, helas, 43 member of S&D including several PSOE members and the draftperson of the deirective on circular economy Simona Bonafe.

At the end of this sad day, there is no use in accusing the usual lobbyists. They are not the ones who vote. The point is to understand why, a few weeks away from the conclusion of the COP21 in Paris, a few months away from the VW global scandal, while cities are covered in smog, the blackmailing of the car manufacturers who do not want to adapt to a changing world is stronger than all health and innovation considerations.

by Monica Frassoni