Conservatives are putting cars before people: We cannot let that happen

Conservatives are putting cars before people: We cannot let that happen

EURACTIV — 2023-11-08

News from Brussels

Member of the European Parliament Christel Schaldemose is with the centre-left S&D group. Member of the European Parliament Bas Eickhout is with the Greens/EFA group. Member of the European Parliament Nikolaj Villumsen is with the The Left group.

This week, the European Parliament is voting on the so-called Euro 7 legislation; rules to clean or not to clean new European cars, vans, buses and trucks.

Conservative Europe has teamed up with the car industry to centre the debate on competitiveness and prices, instead of healthy and clean air.

Every year, 70,000 Europeans die prematurely due to pollution from road transport. The parliament will decide what it deems more important: the car industry or the people.

The Euro standards have been one of, if not the most effective tools to tackle air pollution in cities by cleaning up the exhaust emissions of hundreds of millions of vehicles.

With the transition to electromobility getting traction, the Euro 7 standard will most likely be the last of its kind.

That does not diminish its importance, as more than 100 m cars will still be sold under this standard and remain on the road for decades to come.

Moreover, since the end of the combustion engine has not been set for trucks, the Euro 7 vehicle fleet will be driving on our streets well into the 2050s.

Unsurprisingly, the car industry has been spinning a different tale: Portraying the Euro standards for cars and vans as superfluous, or even counterproductive to the transition to electric vehicles.

And with success – the Commission watered down its proposal, ignoring the advice of the independent advisory board it set up to determine feasible standards.

Instead of slashing the NOx pollution limit by half and limiting particle pollution by 80%, the Commission kept the existing limits for new petrol cars, without valid reason.

Since then, feasibility has been ignored in this debate, which has been simplified to prices and competitiveness.

Both the Council and Parliament – under conservative leadership – have tapped into this and further weakened the proposed standards. In a race to the bottom, fears have been overruling facts. What would happen if we turn that around?

The Commission, backed by testing from industrial stakeholders, clearly shows how price increases from implementing this regulation will be marginal.

Halving pollution from cars would only raise the cost of a petrol car marginally, and yet, the Commission proposal is not even doing that.

At the same time, the car industry’s profits have doubled since 2019: BMW, Mercedes, Stellantis, Renault and Volkswagen together made €64 bn in profits in 2022.

Manufacturers tell us that this money is needed to invest in electric mobility, while at the same time, spending bn on stock buybacks and dividends. Clearly, they can address electrification and cleaner cars at the same time.

The claim that tough standards would favour Chinese and American manufacturers is also false, since both China and the US are setting more ambitious standards and will have to comply with the very same Euro 7 standards on the European market.

This leaves European companies having to equip cars for export with better technologies than what we put on our own roads. While industry is profiting, all Europeans are paying the price of poor air quality.

Euro 7 could have delivered tens of bn in net environmental and health benefits, by marginally raising the price of a new car. Instead, we leave local governments to solve the issue.

They will have to penalise old cars since new cars will not get any cleaner. People who cannot afford a new car will be paying the price for inaction. We have to make sure this does not happen.

The plenary vote this Thursday is the last scramble to get any sense of this urgency and justice back into the text. We can still vote for improvements in testing conditions, more ambitious pollution limits for trucks and timelines that make sense.

We as progressives want to show that we can and will not put the car industry above people, but rather want to prioritise health above profits. We count on anyone who feels the same, to do the same.


This opinion piece does not necessarily reflect the views of ECG