Eight countries, including France and Italy, expressed their opposition on Monday to the tightening of car pollution standards in the EU proposed by Brussels, judging that it risked slowing down investment by manufacturers in electric vehicles.
The EU recently announced the end of sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, in favor of 100% electric vehicles. The aim is to reduce automotive CO2 emissions to zero to contribute to the continent's objective of carbon neutrality by 2050.
On the pollution side, the European Commission presented its proposals in November for the new standard, called Euro 7, which should apply to all private vehicles from 2025, regardless of their engine. The pretext used is to reduce air pollution linked to road transport, responsible according to the Greens for 70,000 deaths each year in the EU. A direct causal link whose mechanism is increasingly disputed.
"We oppose any new exhaust rules (including new requirements on test conditions or new emission limits) for cars and light commercial vehicles," wrote in a working document the States opposed to this text, including France and Italy, which are home to a major automotive industry.
"These new rules would hamper the necessary investments by industry in the transition to zero emissions", believe these countries, which also include Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia. They also consider the deadline of 2025 too close. Above all, they mobilize investments out of proportion to the expected effects on air quality.
Germany, by far the leading European automotive power, has not yet signed the text, but it has repeatedly expressed concern about the impact of tougher standards for its businesses. The coalition government is struggling to find a common line between Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens torn by their contradictions.
According to calculations by the European executive, the Euro 7 standard would notably make it possible to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 35% from passenger cars and light commercial vehicles and by 56% from buses and trucks by 2035, compared to the previous Euro 6 standard. A prognosis that many experts do not share.
But the new standard is contested by the automotive industry, which considers its environmental benefit limited compared to its astronomical cost. Faced with massive investments to develop their new electric range in the face of formidable competition from Tesla and Chinese manufacturers, it wants to avoid additional investments in thermal engines, in any case doomed to disappear in Europe while they will last elsewhere. The sector employs 13 million people in Europe.
"Many countries have joined Italy in asking the Commission to be reasonable and pragmatic" on the future Euro 7 standard, Italian Minister of Enterprise Adolfo Urso said on Monday, quoted by Italian media.
The hardening proposed by the Commission was however considered insufficient by the defenders of the environment, dogmatic partisans of an "always more" without evaluation of the strategic consequences. They are already accusing Brussels of giving in to the automobile lobby, whereas the latter, if it existed, has long since given in to the green lobby.
The Commission, somewhat shaken by the revolt which is also winning over motorists confronted with urban EPZs, has proposed modifying the conditions for testing the pollutant gas emissions of vehicles to make them more consistent with real driving conditions. But it would do so without modifying the thresholds imposed on petrol cars and only slightly lowering those on diesel vehicles.
These thresholds would however be significantly reduced for heavy goods vehicles, another point disputed on Monday by the eight signatory countries which consider these objectives "too ambitious".
The EU Member States, very divided on the subject, must try to find a common position, before negotiations which promise to be very complicated with the European Parliament.