Germany bids to soften ban on lead in cars

EU presidency tables last-minute proposal to broaden scrap car directive ban exemptions

Germany has annoyed fellow EU members by tabling last-minute changes to an informal ministerial agreement on the proposed scrap car directive. Governments were surprised last week when the EU presidency tabled four new amendments to a text that most considered ready for adoption by environment ministers this Thursday. The changes seek to extend a list of exemptions from a planned prohibition of four heavy metals in new cars (ENDS Daily 22 December 1998).

One EU official told ENDS Daily it was very unusual for any delegation to propose new amendments just days before a ministerial meeting, but especially taboo for the presidency to do so since it is supposed to play a conciliatory role. A national diplomat speculated that the move followed lobbying from Germany's car industry, which wants to be able to continue to use heavy metals in some applications that would otherwise be outlawed.

Two of the new amendments were also proposed by the European Parliament last month. These would allow lead to be used as an alloy in lead/bronze bearing shells and pistons, and as a stabiliser in plastic components. The other two would allow lead to be used in ceramic parts of spark plugs, and would increase the maximum amount of hexavalent chromium allowed in corrosion preventative coating of components, from a proposed two grams, to five grams per vehicle.

Meanwhile, EU countries have already agreed ban exemptions for small amounts of lead as an alloy in steel and aluminium and for up to 4% of the content of window levers, wheel rims and copper alloys. Lead would also be allowed in batteries, coating inside petrol tanks, vibration dampers, as a vulcanising agent for high pressure of fuel hoses, a stabiliser in protective paints and solder in circuit boards and other applications. Mercury would be allowed in light bulbs. The other substance to be restricted under the new directive, cadmium, would be banned completely.

One diplomat said that although Germany was proposing only minor changes, many countries would oppose them as a matter of principle. "We have closed this dossier. Other delegations have things that they would like to raise, but they don't. As the presidency, they should withdraw [the proposals]," she said.

Despite the new proposals, officials believe it is very likely that ministers will reach a political agreement this week, leading to a formal common position in the following weeks without further political negotiations. The proposal will then return for a second reading in parliament, which will eventually have co-decision powers on the dossier once the EU Amsterdam treaty enters into force later this year.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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