EU diplomats finally settle scrap car row

Three-year delay in producer responsibility requirements still not enough to satisfy Germany

The row between EU governments on who should pay for recycling scrap cars was settled this afternoon with a slight alteration to the draft end-of-life vehicles directive to allow manufacturers an extra three years before they have to take on full financial responsibility.

Despite the change to a text first agreed informally by EU environment ministers in December, Germany maintained its opposition and voted against the compromise. However Spain and the UK, which backed the German position at the ministerial meeting in Luxembourg last month (ENDS Daily 24 June), did not join it this time. The proposal was therefore passed under the EU's qualified majority voting system and is likely to be formally adopted by written procedure before the end of the month.

The row exploded in March when Germany - which held the EU presidency at the time - refused to rubber stamp the draft end-of-life vehicles directive, despite the fact that most member states felt that a virtually final deal had been struck three months previously (ENDS Daily 22 December 1998).

Germany's move was prompted by intense last-minute lobbying by Volkswagen, which claimed that the plan to make producers financially responsible for recycling all cars reaching the end of their lives from 2003 would be crippling.

Following in the lines of a suggestion made by Austrian environment minister Martin Bartenstein, EU diplomats have now agreed to push back the date at which producer responsibility to apply to all cars to 2006 while bringing forward the time when new cars would be covered by the law to 2001. Germany is believed to have called for full producer responsibility to be delayed until 2012.

The compromise is unlikely to satisfy the European car industry, which believes that it should not have to take responsibility for older cars that were not designed for easy recycling. Manufacturers see the draft legislation as retroactive as they are unable to change the design of cars already in the road. As the average age of a car in the EU is estimated to be 12 years, there will still be plenty of pre-2001 vehicles reaching the end of their lives after 2006.

One other amendment to the text, called for by Greece, will bring the date when the directive's recycling targets have to be met in line with the start of full producer responsibility in 2006. The original proposed date was 2005.

In the negotiations today, the Netherlands said it would abstain from voting, apparently because it has misgivings over whether it will be able to retain its existing system for car recycling. The text now returns for a second reading in the European Parliament, which has co-decision powers with national governments.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111. References: See the Finnish EU presidency web site, for a short official statement on the scrap cars agreement.

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