HANDELSBLATT EXCLUSIVE Germany Hits the Brakes on EU Emissions Law

Germany’s transport ministry has attempted a last-minute blocking maneuver on an EU proposal to toughen emissions testing standards. 
Picture source: AP

In an eleventh-hour move, the German transport ministry has disrupted a proposed compromise on new European vehicle emission-testing laws, due to be passed in Brussels on Wednesday. On Friday, the ministry introduced a last-minute list of amendments, in a move that could derail a hard-negotiated compromise. Alexander Dobrindt, the transport minister, appears to have acted unilaterally on the question, angering government colleagues.

A deal to partially shift emissions-testing authority to the European level had been brokered by Malta, the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency. Under qualified majority voting rules, the proposal could be voted into law without Germany’s approval, if enough other states vote in favor.

On Friday, Mr. Dobrindt sent 27 pages of amendments to other EU governments. The environment ministry is angered that the proposals were not approved with it, although they were issued in the name of the federal government. Internal discussions on the matter are said to have been heated.

Germany is trying to prevent agreement on a deal that would reduce its ability to shield its carmakers. Julia Poliscanova, environmental lobby group, Transport & Environment

The move has also attracted criticism in Brussels: it is unusual for a state to upset a carefully-brokered compromise in this way. “Germany is obviously attempting to delay the process still further,” said Julia Poliscanova of the environmental lobby group Transport & Environment. “Germany is trying to prevent agreement on a deal that would reduce its ability to shield its carmakers.”

At the beginning of last year, the EU Commission put forward a comprehensive package of reforms, meant to prevent any repetition of the “Dieselgate” affair, in which Volkswagen falsified emissions data to evade environmental standards. Under the proposals, EU experts would ultimately oversee national testing authorities, allowing them to impose penalties and demand product recalls. National testing bodies would scrutinize each others’ work, to ensure integrity and prevent influence from domestic carmakers.

For the reforms to become law, agreement is necessary between the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers. Parliament approved the legislation at the beginning of April, strengthening some elements. But the Council has remained divided, with numerous member states objecting: alongside Germany, these included Italy, Spain and a number of Eastern European countries. To achieve a compromise, the Maltese presidency watered down the draft law, limiting European control over national testing bodies.

This won the support of Italy and Spain, leaving Germany and the Eastern European states unable to block the law under the EU’s qualified majority voting system. One remaining point of difference is the role of EU scientists in case of a dispute between two national authorities. Berlin is keen to prevent the EU from becoming a final authority in such cases.

The immediate impact of Mr. Dobrindt’s move remains unclear. In response to Handelsblatt’s inquiries, the transport ministry in Berlin said the compromise proposals “do not go far enough” and “must be made more precise.”


Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt's Berlin office. Till Hoppe reports on politics for Handelsblatt, with a focus on defense, domestic policy and cyber issues. Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction, environmental policy and climate change. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]