MEPs have narrowly voted in favour of temporarily increasing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission limits for diesel cars, in spite of an attempt to block the plans. The vote comes in the aftermath of the 'dieselgate' scandal, which revealed how carmaker Volkswagen had falsified emission test results and was not in fact complying with clean air legislation.
Since then, policymakers have been under pressure to implement stricter measures to lower car emissions, improve air quality and avoid a repeat of such an incident.
The European Parliament and Commission appear to believe they have done just that by doubling the amount of NOx cars are allowed to emit, effectively allowing them to pollute more. The logic appears to be that this will enable manufacturers to meet the requirements of new tests coming into force in 2017.
MEPs say their move was justified by the Commission's announcement that it would introduce a review clause and a long-term legislative proposal to overhaul the EU's car approval regime, which will ultimately lower emissions caps.
Giovanni La Via, Chair of Parliament's environment committee, said, "We now have clear commitments from the European Commission for a review clause with a precise timeframe, in order to bring down the maximum emission values to the levels that were agreed upon by co-legislators."
"A proposal for long-term reform of the EU approval regime for cars is also on the table, as requested by Parliament."
"I therefore welcome the responsible decision from the plenary. This will allow us to go ahead with the real driving emissions (RDE) procedure in order to bring down NOx emissions from cars. At the moment these are 400 to 500 per cent above official limits."
"We have avoided uncertainties, because industry now has strict but sustainable deadlines to meet. In Europe, we will have better air quality for our citizens without losing jobs."
However, many MEPs remained unconvinced. S&D group Vice-President for sustainability Kathleen Van Brempt, accused the Commission and Council of, "trying to increase the legal emissions limits through the back door."
"There is already a law, approved by this Parliament and the member states in 2007, setting the limits. So this cannot be changed by a technical committee without the Parliament."
"On top of being undemocratic, such a measure would also be disrespectful to those citizens who expect EU legislators to protect public health. If some companies or vested interests are circumventing the law, it is our duty and that of the Commission to ensure compliance, instead of changing the law to the benefit of those that do not respect it."
Catherine Bearder, ALDE group shadow rapporteur on reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants, said; "Today was a good day for dirty deals and a bad day for cleaner air."
She called on the Commission to, "live up to its word and tighten emission limits as soon as possible."
Greens/EFA group Co-Chair Rebecca Harms believed Parliament had, "abdicated its responsibility to protect the health of EU citizens. This vote represents yet another in a long list of victories for the car industry lobby in Brussels, and yet another blot on the record of the European Parliament."
Campaigners were equally outraged, with Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at green NGO Transport and Environment, commenting; "It's disgraceful that the most powerful countries in Europe think that keeping dirty diesel is good for their car industry while citizens are poisoned."
Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary-General of EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities, emphasised that the vote, "effectively gives the green light for cars to emit higher levels of harmful pollutants, jeopardising Europe’s air quality and public health."