Air pollution: Labour MEPs say no to conservative retreat

“Thanks to the conservative forces in this Parliament, today we voted on a Euro 7 Report which lacked the ambition needed to limit road transport emissions, improve air quality, and safeguard the health of our citizens. Without strong Euro 7 standards, the burden will fall on European citizens and regions.” – MEP Cyrus Engerer

All four Maltese Labour MEPs voted against a European Parliament draft position that, in their view, delays action on air pollution by reducing the strength of a proposal by the European Commission for new measures to cut down pollutant emissions for passenger cars, vans, buses and trucks.

The report, prepared by the EP’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and praised by conservatives as a pragmatic deal with industry, was approved earlier today during a mini plenary session held in Brussels.

The dossier has been subject to considerable debate between the EU institutions and stakeholders since, on 10th November 2022, the European Commission issued the proposal for a new Euro 7 Regulation to update the current limits for exhaust emissions (such as nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and ammonia) and introduce new measures to reduce emissions from tyres and brakes, while increase battery durability. The current emission limits apply to cars and vans (Euro 6) and to buses, trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles (Euro VI).

Following the vote, Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer, who sits on the EP’s ENVI committee, told The Journal that “thanks to the conservative forces in this Parliament, today we voted on a Euro 7 Report which lacked the ambition needed to limit road transport emissions, improve air quality, and safeguard the health of our citizens. Without strong Euro 7 standards, the burden will fall on European citizens and regions to ensure compliance with the ambitious air quality laws at European level. We will also continue having millions of internal combustion engine vehicles circulating in European roads in the next decades. This is not in line with everything that we have managed to achieve at a European level in the Green Deal and it is not something which we will stand for. For this reason, together with the majority of the S&D Group, we have voted against this Report.”

MEP Cyrus Engerer

The other Maltese MEP, the Nationalist Party’s David Casa, voted in favour – being EP President, Roberta Metsola does not vote.

Malta backs the Commission proposal

The ‘no’ vote of the four Labour MEPs – Alfred Sant, Cyrus Engerer, Alex Agius Saliba, and Joisanne Cutajar – reflects Malta’s position on the issue.

“Malta supports stricter rules for vehicle emissions to ensure a swifter penetration of cleaner vehicles and to establish an appropriate framework for the country to reduce emissions in the road transport sector. Malta prefers shifting from traditional internal combustion engine vehicles to cleaner, less polluting technologies,” a Government spokesperson told The Journal. They voiced Malta’s disappointment at how “the original Commission proposal has been weakened” at a time when it is crucial to have an ambitious plan. “Malta understands that the aim of the negotiations (between the European institutions) was to find a middle ground that most would agree on, but is disappointed with the outcome. Malta backed the European Commission’s original proposal and wanted the revised version to maintain high standards for air quality and public health, while also being flexible for industry needs. However, Malta feels that the current proposal has been overly diluted, even more than what the industry requested, resulting in a text that makes it hard for us to justify in terms of improvements in reducing emissions from road transport.”

Commissioner Dalli warns about environmental and health drawbacks

Addressing the plenary yesterday night in lieu of European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, European Commissioner Helena Dalli pointed out that, with the ENVI position, the changes proposed by the European Commission would apply about three years later. She noted that this longer period would surely give vehicle manufacturers more lead time to adapt to changes but also less time to recuperate their investment before moving totally to zero-emission vehicles. This timing factor would also reduce the environmental and health benefits that could be enjoyed asa  result of the Commission’s proposal.

European Commissioner Helena Dalli addressing the EP mini plenary in Brussels yesterday. Photo: European Union

Commissioner Dalli recalled that the European Commission had made the proposal the way it did in order to respect three main principles while taking into account the broader transformation of the whole automative industry.

  1. Improving air quality to lower the number of premature deaths in the EU. She drew attention to the fact that 70,000 people die prematurely every year across the Union due to air pollution from cars, vans, buses, and trucks.
  2. Putting clean vehicles on the market at affordable prices so that European citizens can afford to buy new, clean vehicles instead of more-polluting second-hand ones.
  3. Preserving the competitiveness of the European automotive industry, not just that of the large manufacturers but the enitre ecosystem, including component manufacturers and aftermarket services.

“The Commission proposal aimed at striking the right balance between these challenging objectives,” she told Eureopan legislators. “It proposed emission limits that are achievable with cost-effective solutions and technology whch is already available. We proposed future-proof elements that will remain valid for electric vehicles, brakes, tyres, and battery durability. We proposed using available digital technology, like sensors, to improve complance over the lifetime of a vehicle.”

Right-wing rapporteur says Commission proposal devastating for consumers

After the vote, the rapporter of this ENVI dossier, Czech MEP Aleandr Vondra (European Conservatives and Reformists Group, ECR, centre-right) addressed a press conference expressing his satisfaction with the result and branding the Commission’s original proposal as “very bad and devastating for consumers”.

The Journal asked for his reaction to Commissioner Dalli’s assertion that, with ENVI’s proposal, the changes will actually apply three years later than it would have been the case had the Commission’s proposal been carried and to critics and Member States that feel that the EP counter-proposal has been overly diluted, perhaps even more than the industry itself requested.  The original legislative proposal assigned a lot of duties and obligations to the industry and to the Member States, but the Commission itself did not assume any duties and obligations on itself, he replied. Therefore, in his report he tried to recrtify this. “Certainly, there are some legal questions – that’s up to the lawyers to advise us – but the basic political point is that it’s not just the Member States and the industry (that have to carry obligations) but the Commission has to bear some responsibility too,” he said. MEP Vondra remained confident of being on the right side, warning that, if the Commission has its way, the automobile manufacturing companies would have to stop manufacturing small cars immediately, leaving the poor in Europe only with the options of either going car-free or purchase older, second-hand cars that pollute more.

Centre-right MEP Aleksandr Vondra, addressing a press conference on Euro 7 emission standards for cars, vans, lorries, and buses following the vote. Photo: European Union 2023 – Source: EP

He expressed optimism that inter-institutional negotiations on the dossier will be finalised by the end of the year, after trialogues rounds are held between the EP, the Commission, and Council this month and in December. He asserted that the Council’s position is, like Parliament’s, critical of the Commission’s original proposal, and that this will make it easier to speed up a final common position.

Main photo credit: European Union 2013 EP

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