5 April 2007
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell on the work of 5,000 lobbyists whose job is to influence EU legislation, and the latest developments in the European Commission's attempt to restrict CO2 emissions from cars.
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How do you get the ear of a commissioner, or win hearts and minds in the European Parliament?
I am told that in Brussels at any rate, the cheerful sound of champagne corks popping is out of fashion and the rather duller "click" of an earnest young man or woman changing slides on a powerpoint presentation is more the thing.
Every day laws are being made here that will affect the way you and I live, and you can bet your bottom euro that someone - an industry, a pressure group, a trade union - wants to beef up or water down the original draft.
Political lobbying may have a rather seedy reputation, but there are plenty here who argue it's vital and for the common good. Those who lobby on behalf of lobbying say the heart of it is giving politicians detailed, technical information so their decisions are better informed.
One insider tells me that if you see a lobbyist and a politician having an expensive meal in Brussels they are probably, in his words, old blokes with no real influence. If you know different, let me know.
But a lot of ears are being bent on behalf of Europe's car makers. They are alarmed about the plan to make a new law to reduce the carbon dioxide pumped out by cars.
The idea is to cut the average emission to 130g per kilometre driven. And they want to do it in five years' time. I've promised to track this law in some detail and some of the most important work is going on now, out of the public gaze.
The European Commission is writing the draft of the law and a study of what it will mean in practical terms - the impact assessment. The plan is to have them ready by the autumn, and lobbyists from both from the green camp and the car manufacturers are frantically trying influence what is in them.
OPEN LAW MAKING
In the newsagents' right next to my office, and just across the road from the building where the commissioners all live, there is the usual array of newspapers and magazines, sweets and cigarettes.
But in a prominent place in front of the till is a big white booklet called "European Lobbying" by Daniel Gueguen, a snip at just 50 euros a copy. It's full of graphs and diagrams about how to establish "downstream networks".
Some manufacturers are happy to make small cars
But it makes the interesting point that, contrary to popular opinion, law-making in Brussels is a much more open process than in most member states.
It's much easier to ring up civil servants, or get hold of documents - if you know what you are looking for in the first place.
The author estimates there are about 5,000 full-time lobbyists working in Brussels. But one of the busiest must be Sigrid de Vries, the spokeswoman for the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. This represents 13 big companies.
Word has it that Europe's car makers have been fighting like cats in a sack, with French, Italian and Spanish manufacturers happy to produce smaller greener cars, and the Germans not so keen. The basic fear is that companies can make cleaner, smaller cars but people just won't buy them.
One of Ms de Vries' many documents argues Audi could only sell 60 of its hybrid Duo and Renault only 151 of its most environmentally-friendly Kangoo.
DEFENDING CLEAR INTERESTS
Her argument is that the car makers shouldn't be singled out.
The manufacturers want drivers to be taxed for polluting, fuel to be part of the equation, drivers to be trained to drive more responsibly... as long as the burden isn't all on industry.
But does she think lobbying is in the public interest?
The cleanest Kangoo has not sold well
She tells me: "I think Europe has a clear interest that this industry stays in Europe. The industry provides jobs to two million people directly and another 10 million people indirectly. They invest in education, they innovate, they are one of the most innovative industries of Europe.
"Technologies developed within the car industry are used by many different industries, such as the medical, the health sector and others. The car industry is in the public interest and we have clear interests to defend.
"It's very open who we are, and what we do, what we stand for what we produce, we do not have anything to hide, so it's about defending very clear and very legitimate interests."
CIVIL SERVANTS' CIVIL SERVICE
Lobbyists may see quite a lot of a rather open, light building filled with trees and plants on the outskirts of Brussels. It is home to the Directorate General of Environment.
This is the bit of the European Commission that I think most people are completely unaware of, outside Brussels. The commission is sometimes described as "the EU's civil service". But the commissioners and their people in the cabinets are much more like ordinary politicians. If you insist they are civil servants, then the director generals are the civil servants' civil service.
Green and pleasant as the building is, what strikes you as you walk into Jos Delbeke's office is not foliage but folios.
We sit and talk at a large table. If he sat behind his desk I wouldn't be able to see him. It is covered with stacks of files and paper, each pile about a foot high. There are lots of coloured folders and I sincerely hope he's got a system.
He and his team are currently drafting the law on CO2 emissions, and the report, the impact assessment, that will go with it. Does he love the lobbyists?
"It can be funny, even entertaining from time to time, but we squeeze them to come forward with real arguments, data on the table. It's not about whether you like someone. We use it in a deliberate manner to check, double check, and triple check information," he says.
So does he mind? "I do mind when it is eating up my time, because then I have to work longer and my family doesn't find that very pleasant. But when real information is brought to the table it can be useful."
The man writing the first report on the planned law for the European Parliament agrees, and similarly has no interesting tales of champagne-guzzling to tell me.
The Liberal Democrats' Chris Davies is what they call here the "rapporteur". He has mixed feelings about attempts to influence what he writes. He says some lobbyists come into his office saying, "You're going to ruin the car industry, our margins are terribly small, we're beleaguered and if you tighten the screws any more that's the end."
He adds: "This of course is complete nonsense." But he does seem persuaded of one industry argument, that aiming for 2012 is too ambitious and that 2020 would be more sensible, if the targets were toughened up.
If most of those I talk to are happy about the lobbying process, Corporate Europe Observatory is not keen on big companies having such influence. They are lobbying for more transparent lobbying and a register of lobbyists.
CEO's Yiorgos Vassalos says: "The problem is that there is an imbalanced landscape. Of course their interests are legitimate but there's also the public interest and the interest of the future generations, of not having a better climate.
"The green groups that are trying to promote effective measures on defending the climate, they have much less influence because of the financial means that they have. I guess the car industry has much more financial means to try to influence the decision-makers."
Is he right or wrong? Either way, watch this space for the latest on this embryonic law. And if you know better than me what's really going on, do tell.
Please use the post form below to comment on any of the issues raised in the diary.
Has anyone actually considered maybe walking for a change? I leave my car at home whenever possible, I walk my kids to school, I walk to do the shopping most of the time, when I can carry it, I use it only for journeys to visit my family, which is not very accessible by public transport, and when absolutely necessary. It saves money, it saves the environment and it's healthier for you and the kids. Surely this approach would have a greater impact, it's about attitude-change. People believe they have a right to pollute and contaminate for their own purposes, this should not be the attitude, use when necessary, which is fine. But let's get a clearer picture, lobbyists are not the answer, individuals are, let's change the mentality behind car use.
Helen, Rochdale, Lancs
Just look at the Tobacco Advertising Directives for a good example of lobbying. Why were they put off for 9 years; followed by a watered-down version of the original? You don't need much imagination...
Edmund, United Kingdom
One of the major problems here is that Germany is the hub of car manufacturing and its population (the largest in the EU) is infatuated with whopping fast cars. Unless the German government manages to wean its citizens off such behemoth gas-guzzling vehicles (and imposes speed limits on all motorways, thereby cutting emissions) and onto more environmentally-friendly vehicles, there'll be little change in Europe.
Darren, Prague, Czech Republic
The main reason environmentalists are losing ground is the misappropriation of resources. The polluting industries spend billions each year contributing to research, in response to policies. However, billions are also spent on environmental research by academic institutions. The facts are published every month on scientific journals. The resources are certainly there, transparent as it can be, all they need to do is acknowledge/accept/hire suitable personnel to provide the facts, and rationally propose viable solutions with the industry.
The second reason is that the green bodies consist often of idealists with very little education/scientific background. They want it all green, but have no understanding of what it truly implies, to both modern living and to the environment (so they whine and protest no matter what!) The commission has realized this, and are now demanding just the facts: objective and verifiable.
J., Bonn, Germany
Please keep an eye too on the forthcoming Second Reading by the European Parliament of the proposed new EU Directive on Air Pollution. My understanding is that German car industry lobbyists played a crucial role in persuading MEPs to vote (despite being the traditional champion of citizen rights) for a weaker position than even the EU Council of Ministers was proposing! A revised draft Directive should be circulated soon with a vote in the third quarter. Simon Birkett, Campaign for Clean Air in London.
Simon Birkett, London
Don't know what it is, but somehow all "Green Cars" are ugly. Look at a fuel-efficient car and you might find that even the highly praised hybrid car burns more than a small diesel from VW, Ford or Audi, once you take it on the motorway... The introduction of new environmental taxes, new guidelines and other regulations will not help. It will cripple our economies and make politics even less favorable. I'm from Germany and I must say, we need no more regulation... What good does it do if we Europeans starve ourselves of petrol and China, India, the USA and other markets burn it?
Matze Cork, Frankfurt, Germany
Having worked as an accredited lobbyist in Brussels, I think that lobbying activities are really important both for European civil servants as well as for the populations concerned. Every coin has two sides. Just accept that there are good and bad lobbyists. After all, we are human beings. What else do you expect? Do you think that NGO activists are more righteous professionals or more ethical than lobbyists because they are close to "terrain" or victims and we are close to "politics" or decision-makers? If you think so, it is really an old-fashioned and regretful perception. Once you have a chance to talk with EU civil servants or parliamentarians, you will understand why we need lobbyists in Brussels. Lack of information is a real problem in EU policy-making procedure. And what's the problem of drinking champagne and of going to golf? Are they the symbols of corruption? In Australia, golf is one of the sport classes in high school. I went to golf after church service every Sunday. I don't think because of this hobby I am more corruptive. On the contrary, I feel more healthy in fact.
Lobbying and networking is part-and-parcel of the political process these days, and (as in Washington, Berlin, Paris, London) ethical practices vary in proportion to the interests at stake. Perhaps the diary should have picked up on the intense lobbying related to mooted alcohol regulation last year: even Commissioner Kyprianou complained about 'aggression', and the lobbyists' tactics drew comparisons with the US gun lobby! The industry lobbyists naturally won hands down. But beyond dossiers and powerpoints (legitimate practice, all told), suggestions of seediness could hve been backed up by listing the Brussels golf clubs typically frequented by lobbyists and EU mandarins, and the shady phenomenon of 'cohabitation' of office buildings in Brussels.
The problem with outfits such as CEO (and this is something I have dug into), is that their sources of funding are far murkier than that of industry lobbies - its obvious who is paying for pro-car manufacturer lobbies, but who pays for the 'anti-lobby lobbyists?' (In the case of CEO, it is the Quakers).
A lobbyist, Brussels, Belgium
The claim in this comment section by an anonymous lobbyist that CEO's sources of funding "are far murkier than that of industry lobbies" is simply bizarre. CEO has always been fully transparent about its funding sources. These are listed in the "about ceo" section of our website.
On this background it is highly dubious for the commentator to state that our funding sources are something he/she has "dug into". Anyone visiting our website can easily find out that one of our current funders is a well-respected foundation with a Quaker background.
Olivier Hoedeman, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO),Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It is not true the many environmental lobbying groups in Brussels have less influence. Mr Vassalos and his group are biased. Exercising influene in Brussels has nothing to do with money, but with the right contacts. Environmentalists are always welcome at DG Environment (headed by EU commisioner Dimas) and tell its chief activist mr Delbeke that the car industry should be destroyed, not only because of the climate, but also because cars are symbols of the industrial society they consider abysmal. Environmentalists are strong believers (and often have a firm religious background, like mr. Gore) and go at great lengths to push their arguments forcefully.
Industries are welcome at DG industry (headed by mr. Verheugen) whose role it is to promote and foster industry and jobs - an important task of the EO commission. All industries have offices in Brussels, not only to lobby, but mainly because they are bombarded with rules and regulations from EU civil servants (and the car industry is the most regulated of them all). Industries talk to the commission (they are always asked to give an opinion anyway), but do not rely on it as much as enviromentalists (some industries prefer to talk to governments). The only difference moneywise is that industry usually have bigger offices then environmental groups.
The way to change the influence from lobbyists is to get rid of the non-elected commissioners (get the commission elected) and give the european parliament more power with real politicians, and not the left overs nobody wanted nationally.
Having worked both in the European Parliament and currently as a "lobbyist" for the high tech sector, I can confirm that lobbying plays a vital role in Brussels. One of the fundamental issues is resources. The Commission administration is only 2% size of US federal administration (and less than the local government of Manchester). Industry, civil society, governments, international and regional organisations, think tanks, lawyers and trade unions play a vital role in filling that gap. Love them or loathe them, multinationals have the organisational structure to acquirte on the ground technical expertise and to feed it back through their internal system and into the hands of policy makers. Civil society groups tend to lack in structure and resources (making up only 11% of Brussels offices of interest groups), which often makes their technical information less reliable or valuable and consequently less used. Nonetheless, one must bear in mind that a considerable section of legislation is fought over not by NGOs versus industry, but one industry sector versus another. If you look at the upcoming review of the telecoms law, for example, the major battle will be between incumbent operators and new entrants.
A balanced piece. Interestingly little focus on how else officials or politicians would get the information. The new laws are incredibly complex. Officials are law or economic graduates with no prior work experience. MEP backgrounds perhaps more varied, though query exposure to real world. Their assistants are recently graduated interns. How do they evaluate impact of magnetic radiation, exposure levels to harmful substances, balanced regulation of broadcasting, acceptable dosages of food flavourings? Would you really want them to make a decision - affecting vaste swathes of the economy - without listening to those they hope to regulate?
How would polititians be able to get the relevant inforamation to come to balanced decisions unless 'interest group' representatives came forward to put thier particular case forward? The tricky thing is that we all need to make a living and lobbying may be a 'non profitable' activity depending on what you are lobbying for. On the contrary, it could be very profitable! Here we see the hazard.
It would certianly be helpful if the financial details of lobby groups were made public so that at least polititians could get a scale on which to weigh arguements from different sides. A futher step would be to publically fund lobby groups that represent public interests and gear them to the finances of contrary interest group lobbyists.
Just an idea
To answer Alex from Switzerland, the Commission does fund public interest lobby groups to the tune of 1bn euro a year.
You only need to see what goes on in Local Authorities to see that lobbists are overly influential.
I find it disgusting that a small group of un-elected, non-representative individuals can have influence and push particular agendas over elected (and in the case of the commission, non-elected) politicians. Whereas the people that these politicians are supposed to represent have absolutely no say at all!
The whole reason politicians are pushing the green agenda on so-called Global Warming is purely down to lobby groups, politicians in the UK, especially the government haven't actually bothered to find out the facts, such as yes the planet is warmer, but no, its not man-made. They accept the word of a UN-financed group, whose self-interest is maintaining finance for whatever governments want to hear.
It's about time lobby groups were actually banned outright and about time the politicians started to work for the people that elected them.
Edward, Newbury, England
In theory lobbying is in the interest of the people, by helping infrom the diplomats.
However, we live in a capitalist world, and in practice it means decisions will always lean towards the favour of the money holders, the big businesses, not the publics interests.
Chris, Oxford, England
Corporate) money makes the world go round!
svea, waldkraiburg, germany
Strange that the Meps can spend months coming up with CO2 emission drafts. Then there drivers can sit outside of a restaurant in rue Franklin in 5 vehicles with the engines running for the duration of there lenghly meal (where no doubt lots more hot air was expelled). This was observed on more than one occation. What is needed is education and application not more legistration.
M.Powell, Brussells Belgium
Meeting European functionaries in Brussel (in parties...) can be a very strange experience. Because it's often meeting some people who are like the core of a peach, hermetically surrounded by a much larger group who is just there to sell (Idea, services...). And if you try to have a contact, everybody ask you what you sell, what you buy and if it's just for contact, that you'd better leave.
Regarding public affairs companies themselves, is it not the case that firms are restricted in the number of employees they are allowed to maintain in Brussels - so as to avoid the assymetric levels of influence that are often enjoyed by different interest groups in Washington and the European capitals?
Decisions in a democracy are supposed to be made by the populace. Anyone who tells you different has money on their mind. Those with the most amount of money usually win the influence of politicians (see the NRA in the USA). All lobbyists should be banned. Then may we see truly representative government.
Peter Furlong, Brescia, Italy
Reaction to Chris, Brussels about multinational corporations being more powerful than environmental organisations: this is a myth. Some environmental lobbyists are multinationals themselves (i.e. WWF, Greenpeace) and receive vast sums of money from both public funds and individual supporters (my eight year old son has become a member of WWF). Enviromental lobby's in Brussels often produce sound scientific reports and have the money to do so. In the case of car for example, the 'car haters' lobby group T&E produced a report last november showing car manufacturers hardly comply with their own voluntary commitment to reduce co2 from cars, which was never disputed by the industry, meaning the figures - that were gathered by a British scientific research institute - must have been correct. Industries often conflict with each other, as you rightly point out, and they often send out conflicting views on matters, forcing the EU commission to improvise along the way. That makes industry a lot weaker than the often united environmental front!
There are two items of relative disinformation here. One; the estimated number of lobbyists is supposed to be over 15000, not just the five thousand mentioned. The second; is that the the affiliations, financing and purposes of the lobbies are not required to be declared.
It might be that the car industry is represented, but a lobby working for a foreign (ex-EU) governement has more potential and probably more money, to influence EU policy than that of it's citizen's.
Most peope know of the vast influence of AIPAC lobbyists (American-Israeli, estimated to be 100,000 strong) on disastrous US foreign policy. How many know that an "European" version has been created? (There is not one US lobbyist in Israel though!)
An ordinary citizen of Europe has an incredibly hard job to be heard, yet Governments' that do not share our common policy on humanitarian issues have a "direct line" to commissioners and politicians via their lobbies.
There may be less champagne opened but it is impossible to believe that that influence cannot be merchandised by other more discrete means.
Shaun Smyth, Divonne, France
Why not offer grants or subsidize these 'green' vehicles? In Germany home buyers can claim tax rebates for installing solar panels and other energy saving gadgets.
Back in the 70s my Mum managed to drive us 3 kids around in a Mini - nowadays anything smaller than a monster-space-wagon-people-carrier isn't acceptable as a family car.
While we're arguing about individuals cutting down on fuel consumption, the politicians have to set a better example.
Lucy, Cologne, Germany
The only reason the commission wants there to be an average car emission limit rather than a maximum limit is that they want to continue to be able drive the most polluting models themselves, as they do. I would prefer an absolute maximum of say 150 g/km.
Malcolm, Wirral, UK
We the public want the car and oil industry to finance research in cleaner cars. If the german manufacturers are sure there is a future only in powerful, macho-type cars, let them make these sporty or vip power cars with new, clean techniques. It is only a matter of effort and money put in research, which neither industry has undertaken during the last 60 years.
The one coming out with a clean powerful motor able to power an attack tank shall be the winner. And if they dont have the money, let them lobby for a european research center, well funded, in replacement of the useless parliament sessions in Strasbourg. They could even use the building, and secretariat; AND THAT WOULD CERTAINLY REDUCE POLLUTION ON THE ROADS FROM STRASBOURG TO BRUSSELS AND BACK. (Not only personnel is travelling, the whole cagamarole of documents is also on the trip, by lorries! I believe firmly in Europe, but stop dilapidating energy, please!
notsooldboy, liege belgium
Green-ness is not the only measure by which people evaluate a car when buying. Green cars are smaller and less powerful. If you need more space for luggage or to prevent the kids being cramped and irascible then you need a less green car. If you want to be able to overtake safely on ordinary roads and cruise comfortably on motorways and long journeys, you need a more powerful and less green car. Smaller cars inevitably fare worse in collisions. When buying my current car, green-ness was a factor but not the primary one. I now have a car that is bigger and more powerful than my old one, suits my needs far better, is safer and uses 2/3 of the fuel with commensurate reduction in CO2 to about 140g/km.
Simple economics - If consumers want it manufacturers make it. If the price is too high the consumers won't buy and the manufacturers stop making them. The price is high because manufacturers are only now seriously investing in new engine technology, and that's expensive - they want to recoup their spend in as short a time as possible rather than play the long game and recoup their cost over a longer timeframe (these are commercial organisations after all). There are no real cost offsets from government to make the more eco-friendly cars more cost effective to buy (what about if eco-friendly cars didn't have to pay fuel duty ...). Conclusion: it may be slightly cheaper to run an eco-friendly car but the up front purchase price is much higher, so consumers won't buy them en-mass. Car compnaies won't reduce the prices of eco-friendly cars until there's a mass market from consumers. We need to solve the car cost issue, not lobby for legislation.
Mark Grady, Addlestone, Surrey
Two simple comments. One, I wouldn't buy a Kangoo - it is one of the ugliest vehicles I have seen! Two, and I have no view on this, if the manufacturers stopped making gas guzzlers and just made the "socially acceptable green" vehicles then in the course of time there would be no option but to buy them. Charging and compulsion are themselves antisocial, heavyhanded and unfair measures which simply penalise the less well off.
Bob Ainsworth, Sale Cheshire UK
Most modern cars have more power than is needed. Surely if ALL manufacturers made 'greener' cars then consumers would choose between a Ford 'Green' car and a Citroen 'Green' car rather than having to pay more as they currently do. It is important to have policies like this to protect the planet for the future - isn't that more relevant than the BHP of your car?
Martin, Solihull, UK
Its disingenuous to argue consumers aren't interested in smaller, greener cars - you have to ask where the advertising spend of auto companies is going. As well as clear regulations on car manufacturers the EU should slap 'climate warnings' (as per tobacco warnings) on gas guzzlers - an idea first broached 10 years ago at the Kyoto negotiations by a member of the financial services sector.
Automakers will always object to anything that makes their product less appealing. Huge changes aren't going to happen overnight. The next generation of cars must include proven efficient technology. Direct Injection should be standard, and fuel prices should reflect consumption not road tax bands. Without pressure, automakers would still be selling us side valved 30mpg gas guzzlers. Consumers will do the math, and the marketing should emphasise the true overall costs of motoring. The fuel savings over the lifetime of the vehicle will offset and exceed the extra cost of manufacture. And in time, the second hand market will incorporate the new technology.
Lionel Tiger, Birmingham
I have just bought a new car. Its rated CO2 output is 120gm/km and particle emission 0.002gm/km and it's a diesel.....Citroen can already do this with a 110hp family vehicle, so what's all the angst about?
Alan Wilson, Newmarket UK
Car makers might help themselves a great deal more if they stopped selling toy off roaders and hyper performance cars to people who really do not have any justifiable use for them.
Richard Hough, Knutsford, Cheshire
The EU needs to re-evaluate it's approach to the issue. By far the quick, simple and cost effective solution would to limit engine revs and speed on commercial vehicles, this includes company cars. To go further, why not introduce Tachometers on all commercial vehicles? If you limit the vehicle you limit the driver. Both Greenies and car manufactuers win.
Simon, Ankara, Turkey
Regarding the argument that people will not buy the small, fuel efficient cars that some manufacturers produce.
As most homes now have two or even three cars, would it not make sense to compel the second and third household vehicles to be limited to 800cc engines as most of these vehicles are used as urban runabouts. I'm sure that this would also go a long way to improve road safety because, as most surveys suggest it is the young drivers who are most likely to be involved in accidents.
I am also amazed that as all car manufacturers are obliged to produce cars that emit exhaust noise below a set level, why are part manufacturers allowed to produce these `large bore` exhausts that clearly exceed these noise limits.
Maybe one of these `lobbyists` could take these factors on board.
Graham, Aberdare, Wales
I think the sales of the 'green' cars speaks for itself, consumers clearly have no interest in them. EU, in creating this law, is killing business and forcing 'green' cars down people's throat. The main problem with 'green' cars are they are expensive compared to regular cars. Yes they maybe cheaper in the long term, but when someone buys something, the first thing that catch the eye is the price tag. The second main problem with green cars is they are almost always underpowered. No one would want to spend that amount of money for such a poor performance.
I think this example is a clear sign that the common people that put the people into EU have no interest in environmental issues at all.
Alvin Leong, Manchester, UK
The eternal yammering of the auto industry is tiresome. In the early 70s, Chaban-Delmas in France went all out to improve safety in cars, because of the number of deaths on French roads. (I lived in France in the 60s, I assure you, a trip through the country during vacation times was simply horrific). The auto industry reacted with apocalyptic rhetoric.... Now it's the turn of CO2: We have known about the pollution problem since the 70s at least. And we have known about oil crises. So my question to politicians , lobbyists and consumers (who cannot seem to think ecologically either):
Why has so little been done since then? Why are carmakers still producing gasguzzlers? Why are there no campains out there saying that ecology is sexy? Etc...
Marton, Munich ,Germany
The problem is misinformation distributed by politicians and the media. While small cars appear to be cheap to run and use less fuel the larger car is dismissed. However, a larger car will outlive a small car by say 2-3 times so when the overall environmental cost is considered (manufacturing) the difference is minimal. It is worth pointing out that large cars are cheaper to run that many think. So why are we being forced into buying inferior, socialistic small cars?
It's vital that the EU looks at tougher emission controls, not just on CO2, but also on diesel particulates and other air pollutants. It's also timely, particularly as the Flanders region of Belgium has recently suffered hugely excessive air pollution, so much so that we've had days with a recommended 90 Km/h overall speed limit on the roads. I think the quality of the fuel itself should be checked at filling stations, since I notice some cars, be they old or modern, pollute much more than others. I suspect poor-quality fuel is often to blame. But the biggest problem of all is the lack of information. You try to find on the internet a European table of safe levels for the most dangerous air pollutants. For the US or Canada, no problem. For Europe, good luck! This is something DG Environment should tackle before any other issue.
Philip Hunt, Brussels
This report really shows how the E.U. has parted company with democracy.
Laws are being made by unelected appointees who are working with whichever special interest pressure groups they choose to listen to, and the electorates in the member states have no say whatsoever.
However, what is clear is that, as in this case of CO2 emmissions fom cars, Brussels is increasingly relying on "control and enforce" from the centre to get their way.
Perhaps people need reminding that this was tried before, in the USSR, and after 60 years of misery that was dismantled having been found to have been completely unsatisfactory.
j.kelleway, Bern, Switzerland
Unfortunately J. Kelleway of Bern, Switzerland falls into the usual trap of not understanding how EU law is actually made - i.e. it is only with the approval of the EU Member State governments who are elected by their citizens. More needs to be done to explain this.
Lobbyists are a fact of life.
Bill, Lyon, France
Greener, leaner and less meaner. Bravo to the humble Europeans who don't need to make a statement by driving a Yank tank Chevy Yukon suburban or Ford Expidition, like so many Americans here do (I drive a Hyundai two door Accent dented hatchback,and I'm content).
Will Europe eventually produce hybrids run on ethanol AND can ethonal be synthetically made without the voluminous need for real corn?
Sean K. Moore, Arvada, Colorado
I still drive the Ford Escort I bought new in 1988. I would like my next new car to be solar, since I live in a 360 sunny days/year country (Greece). What is hapenning in this direction?
Eugenia Myrianthopoulos, Athens, Greece
I find it unbelieveable that EU manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW, VW Ford/Jaguar,etc., do, and are allowed to, make vehicles today cars that exceed in cylinders and capacity the Yank Tanks of the 50's amd 60's when CO2 and global warming were unheard of. We now have W16s, V10s, H16s V8s etc with 3 to 8 litre capacities - and other horrors to follow?
The argumant of meeting market demand and the value of the massive US market is rediculous - demand for such monsters is induced by advertising - if you couldnt get a massive Maybach or a Prosche Cayanne that will do 240kms/hr across a ploughed field you wouldnt 'need' or buy one!
Surely 500% VAT on such cars and massive licensing fees would kill off this desease as well as advertising and govt support for small efficient cars and a better life for all - or is corporate and govt. corruption as bad in the EU as it is here?
Geoff Ritson, Cape Town, South Africa
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