EU scrap car directive finally settled

Car makers to pay for existing cars as parliamentary opposition wilts, metals ban from 2003

Car makers will have to pay the costs of recycling both existing and new cars under the EU end-of-life vehicles directive, a conciliation committee of EU member state diplomats and members of the European Parliament agreed last night.

The deal is a final rebuff for the parliament's attempts to weaken producer responsibility for recycling cars already on the road. It is also a victory for the European Commission, which had staunchly supported governments' efforts to make manufacturers pay for the recycling of all cars. The parliament's attempts to substantially weaken bans on heavy metals in car manufacture have also failed.

Last night's meeting ended with the common position agreed by governments last year largely intact. Manufacturers will pay "all or a significant part" of the costs of a free take-back and recycling scheme for "new" cars put on the market from 2001, rather than enjoying the eighteen-month delay that parliament had wanted to introduce.

The breakthrough, however, was the agreement that carmakers will have the same responsibility for "existing" cars put on the market before 2001. It is this provision which had become the central point of dispute in talks over the directive, with Europe's car industry protesting that any retroactive responsibility would be illegal and financially crippling (ENDS Daily 24 January).

The parliament appeared to support the carmakers when it narrowly passed a confusing amendment endorsing the free take-back and recycling scheme for existing cars but leaving it unclear who would fund it. Rapporteur MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz, an opponent of retroactive responsibility, jubilantly claimed member states would have to decide how much of the burden fell on producers and maintained this stance in preliminary talks with diplomats before yesterday's full conciliation meeting (ENDS Daily 29 March).

However, his interpretation was always supported only half-hearted by other MEPs and openly opposed by many. Sources at last night's meeting said Mr Florenz found himself "in a minority" facing up to government diplomats extremely reluctant to reopen an agreement reached among themselves last year only after much trauma (ENDS Daily 22 July 1999). In the end the parties agreed that retrospective responsibility would be delayed just one year to 2007.

The second major issue resolved last night concerned the timing of a ban on lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium in car manufacture. The ban will take effect from 2003 instead of 18 months after the directive enters into force, as had been favoured by governments. The parliament had wanted to delay the ban until 2005.

In a second reverse for the parliament, the ban will apply to individual cars rather than models, effectively bringing forward the phase-out by up to seven years. Parliamentary demands to exempt lead wheel balancing weights and cadmium batteries from the ban also fell, in line with a recent study showing that alternatives existed (ENDS Daily 5 April).

The Commission said today the agreement was "highly satisfying" and "very promising" for planned legislation on waste electrical and electronic equipment. Commissioner Margot Wallström said the Commission had "achieved its key objectives" of improving waste management and removing a number of materials from the environment.

* Meanwhile, yesterday's conciliation meeting also reached agreement on funding for the Life programme, the EU's only dedicated fund for environmental projects. Again, parliament came off second-best, securing a budget of euros 640m for the five-year programme. It had originally demanded an increase in funding from euros 613m to 850m (ENDS Daily 17 February).

Follow Up:
Conciliation committee secretariat; see also Council of Ministers press releases on end-of-life vehicles, and the Life programme.

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