by Sean Goulding Carroll
The European Parliament last week finalised its negotiating stance on ‘Euro 7’, a regulation aimed at tightening vehicle pollution limits. The Parliament’s position drew negative reactions from green campaigners, with the automotive industry considered the victor in the lobbying battle.
There is an impulse among much of the media to present politics as a sort of game – one with teams falling along ideological lines and winners and losers decided by the final shape of legislation.
This is partly because journalists strive to make complex topics understandable and rely on literary tools to do so – the metaphor of a football match, for example, can be a useful framework for understanding political dynamics.
Of course, one may feel that treating democracy as a spectator sport is demeaning.
It could be fairly argued that presenting matters that have a tangible impact on the lives of people as a mere game is cynical and that the competition lens fails to capture the spirit of compromise which is vital to healthy lawmaking.
Fair enough. But, just this once, let’s put those concerns to one side and think of Euro 7 as a head-to-head competition between opposing lobbyists.
If this was a match, the automotive industry lobbyists pulled off a resounding win, having convinced lawmakers that requiring significant changes to combustion engine vehicles to reduce pollution levels was nonsensical in the face of the electric transition.
Indeed, this was the core of their lobbying stance – carmakers are already investing hugely into building up the expertise to go electric, so why force them to pull resources to invest in retooling a technology that will soon be outmoded?
ACEA, the manufacturers’ lobby group, also produced a study (a classic lobbying move) claiming that the strictest form of Euro 7 would push up the cost of making cars by €2,000 per vehicle, and trucks by €12,000 per vehicle.
Alexandr Vondra, the Czech speaker on the file for the nationalist ECR group in the European Parliament, even referenced the ACEA study in his Euro 7 report.
Of course, NGOs dismissed the ACEA study as overblown, pointing out its flaws. But whether the figures were precisely correct didn’t seem to matter, as the gist was clear: Euro 7 will make the price of cars go up at a time of rampant inflation and a cost of living crisis.
The cumulative effect will be to harm one of Europe’s largest industries, it was argued, a decision that will have ramifications not just on consumers but also on those employed in the sector.
Meanwhile, the opposition team, composed mainly of environmental campaigners, put their focus on the health effects of refusing to tackle air pollution from vehicles more strictly.
In aiming to convince lawmakers, green NGOs cited an ICCT study which found that thousands of people in Europe would die prematurely from poor air quality as a result of abandoning a stricter Euro 7. The right of all citizens to breathe clean air was at the forefront of their messaging.
Ultimately though, the health angle did not seem to have the same impact as the industrial warnings.
Although poor air quality is a major concern, it is an invisible killer. It is generally harder to get people to feel passionate about something that cannot be seen or touched or directly observed (climate activists faced the same issue for years in warning about carbon emissions).
Anyway, the move to electric vehicles will make tailpipe emissions a thing of the past, it could be argued.
While the Greens and the centre-left S&D groups were on board with the NGO arguments, the liberal Renew group did not embrace them to the extent of those put forward by industry, swinging the vote more towards the centre-right EPP and ECR groups’ position.
In the end, while there are aspects included in the Parliament stance that both green NGOs and the automotive sector will be pleased and displeased with, it is fair to say that carmakers outplayed their rivals.
However, the match may not be over just yet.
Green campaigners are now changing tactics to push for a rebrand of the law.
Rather than calling it ‘Euro 7’, they want it to be dubbed ‘Euro 6F’, arguing that it is not strong enough to be considered an entirely new standard.
Of course, this rebrand will not change the substance of the law. But it may be just enough to snatch a symbolic victory in extra time.
*first published in: Euractiv.com