They run the show.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Brussels, Europe: A more wretched hive of corporate lobbyists, law firms, and money-grubbing apparatchiks you will struggle to find. The latest example of lobbying influence is one of the most egregious yet, since it will affect the quality (or lack thereof) of the air breathed by millions of Europeans for the foreseeable future.
From September 1, 2017, new car models will have to pass a new emissions test before they can be put on the market. According to many headlines, the new tests are much tougher than the previous ones. “EU Car Emissions: Tough New Tests Backed,” proclaims the BBC. “EU Parliament Takes Tough Stance on Emissions Tests,” thunders the trade journal Automotive News Europe.
The word “tough” normally evokes the idea of strength or resolution, something that is not easily broken or made weaker or defeated. Not so in this case. In the EU’s “tough” new tests, car models sold after September 2017 will not be allowed to “exceed nitrogen oxide emission levels by more than twice the technical limit,” reports the BBC.
Put another way, cars will be allowed to spew out twice the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (NOx) – or as a matter of fact, more than that (110%) – until 2020, and by up to 50% more from then on. The EU has just dramatically raised the emission limit instead of lowering it. So much for toughness.
The really funny thing (in the classic “if you don’t laugh, you have to cry” sort of way) is that the main purpose of the new rules is to regain public trust and confidence in Europe’s car industry.
“Public trust and consumer protection are at stake,” the European Union’s industrial policy chief, Elzbieta Bienkowska, told a business audience in Brussels on Oct. 22. “The only way in which we will restore public confidence is by acting quickly, collectively, coherently, and effectively. National authorities must play their role and work as active partners.”
Unfortunately, some national authorities seem to have taken their “active” role just a little too far. Bienkowska’s original proposal to the Technical Committee for Motor Vehicles was to let real-world NOx emissions exceed permissible discharges by no more than 60% between September 2017 and September 2019, when the actual EU limit of 80 milligrams a kilometer would finally be enforced.
During the meeting a group of non-car producing nations headed by Denmark pushed for even stricter limits. They faced a wall of opposition, though, from some of Europe’s biggest car manufacturers, Germany, France, the UK and Spain, all of whom are currently facing court action from the EU for failing to meet NO2 standards, as well as Europe’s biggest car lobbies.
The outcome was a foregone conclusion: in short order, “60%” over the limit became “110%” over the limit and “strict compliance of the 80mg limit” became “no more than 50% over.” Until September 2017, when the new “limits” kick in, Europe’s diesel vehicles will be able to continue belching out as many pollutants as their manufacturers choose – as long as they do so honestly, without using defeat devices.
Naturally Europe’s car manufacturers and their trade associations are thrilled. The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) heralded the decision as a “robust but realistic package that will address the key environmental issues under a two-step approach.” The exemptions – known as conformity factors – were needed to “prevent or at least minimize earnings shortfalls,” the industry argues.
And in Brussels what industry wants, industry invariably gets, especially when industry is struggling. And right now things are looking particularly bleak for Europe’s car industry. Dieselgate has already wiped more than a quarter off the stock value of Europe’s biggest car manufacturer, Volkswagen. It has also forced out its long-time chief executive and tarnished a business held up for generations as a model of German engineering prowess.
On Wednesday, VW posted its first quarterly loss in at least 15 years after setting aside €6.7 billion to cover the cost of rigging diesel emissions tests. The final bill is likely to be considerably higher.
Most important of all, Volkswagen’s scandal has cast a dark, noxious cloud over all diesels. And with diesel cars accounting for one out of every two passenger vehicles in Europe, the threat to Europe’s car manufacturers cannot be overstated. Presented with the choice of safeguarding Europe’s car industry, which just happens to be one of the biggest lobbying forces in Brussels, or safeguarding the air people breath, the European Commission did what it always does – it let money do the talking. By Don Quijones, Raging Bull-Shit.
And this is the exquisite irony of Dieselgate. Read… Big VW Investors Lose Shirts, Blame Lobbying