Legal doubts raised over EU scrap car plan

Leaked European Commission memo shows legal, environment, directorates at odds

A leaked European Commission memo has called into question the EU executive's own proposal to make car manufacturers pay for recycling the EU's existing car fleet. A member of the European Parliament's environment committee is now calling on Commission president Romano Prodi to clarify the matter before MEPs debate it at their next plenary session.

In the memo, the Commission's legal service questions counter-arguments advanced by the environment directorate (DG) to rebut a legal opinion on the dossier submitted by European car makers. The exchange took place before the Commission endorsed a first ministerial agreement on end-of-life vehicles last year.

The car manufacturers' association Acea has long claimed the proposals are illegal since it would apply retroactively to older cars, thus preventing legal certainty (ENDS Daily 26 July 1999).

The environment directorate says the industry has been aware of the recycling obligation in the proposals since 1997, and will have had nine years to prepare for it under the draft law currently being debated (see separate article). It also points out that producer responsibility for the cars has been weakened. Industry argues that the law will apply to cars made as early 1991, giving a clear six-year retroactive "window". The legal service says it is "difficult to see the point made by [DG Environment]."

DG Environment also argues that the retroactivity principle is not new to the EU and that Acea "overstates the reality in view of [the fact] that a wide range of environmental measures currently exist with the same type of retroactive effects". The legal service says it "cannot support this view" and that "each community measure has to be assessed on its own merits...in order to assess the risk of a successful attack against the validity of the ELV directive."

UK Conservative MEP John Bowis is now demanding that Mr Prodi explain why it recommended ministers adopt the proposals in the face of its legal service's reservations. No reply has yet been received, but a Commission source told ENDS Daily today that the MEP was "misusing" the Parliament and that the Council of Ministers had its own legal team to ensure that any agreement was based on sound legal principles.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111; European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Acea, tel: + 32 2 738 7345.

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