Berlin - Germany's powerful car lobby
has trained its gas-guzzling fire-power on European Union plans
to cut greenhouse gas emissions, putting the grand coalition
governing in Berlin under strain.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel won plaudits across Europe
last year when she presided over the adoption of ambitious EU
targets to fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
But now it comes to pursuing those goals by making car
makers clean up their act, Merkel's government is waging a
rearguard campaign to delay implementation, reduce penalties and
ease the burden on Germany's luxury automobile industry.
A senior government source told a group of visiting European
journalists that Berlin accepts the need for legal curbs on car
emissions of 120 grammes per km on average from 2012, with fines
for non-compliance rising gradually over three years.
The source said Germany's conditions were that all
categories of cars should have to cut their emissions -
including smaller, less polluting vehicles produced by France
and Italy that already meet the EU goal - and that the
mandatory system should be phased in.
Germany has been trying to reach a compromise with France on
burden-sharing on carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions from cars but
expert talks recently stalled and the issue was escalated to the
level of Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"There's a possibility to come to an agreement with France
on a fair system because we are very close, I expect before the
next (EU) environment council in June," the government source
said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But elsewhere in Berlin the tone is much more hostile to the
European Commission's proposals, seen as discriminating against
the German car industry and using excessive regulation to
micro-manage how emissions reductions are achieved.
In a country with an enduring love affair with big,
high-powered cars and no national speed limit on its motorways,
brand names such as BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Porsche are symbols
of national pride as well as export champions.
Some senior politicians fear Brussels could undermine those
brands in fast-growing markets such as China and India by
emasculating their performance through emissions limits.
The powerful car manufacturers' association VDA, headed by
former Christian Democratic minister Matthias Wissmann, is
fighting against any general EU limit on emissions.
"The facts show that a single CO2 upper limit would be the
wrong way to go," a policy statement on emissions on the VDA's
Such arguments find receptive ears in the chancellery, if
not in the Environment Ministry.
The government suffered a reverse at the hands of the car
lobby this month when it was forced to postpone a new standard
for mixing biofuels made from crops into petrol because it would
have forced millions of motorists to buy more expensive fuel.
That setback means Berlin is no longer likely to meet its
self-set target of achieving 17 percent use of biofuels by 2020
- well above the EU's target of 10 percent biofuel usage.
Analyst Ulrike Guerot of the European Council on Foreign
Relations said the blow on biofuels reflected the importance of
the car in German life.
"The car is at the heart of the German male, and quite a lot
of females too. We do big cars," she said, citing the importance
of company cars in many German workers' benefits.