Italy seeks delay over EU leaded petrol ban

Government says 15m vehicles could be affected, presses for three-year derogation

The Italian government has asked the EU to postpone an imminent ban on the sale of leaded petrol that could put 10-15m vehicles off Italy's roads, at an estimated cost of euros 207m (IL400 trillion).

The Government has asked for introduction of the EU ban on leaded petrol to be deferred from 1 January 2000 until the end of 2002. The European Commission is slated to consider Italy's request to by 10 December. Speaking to journalists on the side-lines of a foreign trade conference held in Rome yesterday, Italian EU policy minister Enrico Letta said a postponement of the ban on leaded petrol would be conceded. "There are no good reasons why this shouldn't occur," he said.

Mr Letta described EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström's reported resistance to delaying introduction of the ban as "highly irresponsible" and "completely unjustifiable". Such an attitude did not allow for the difficulties an immediate ban would create for countries that had requested a deferral for social and economic reasons, he said. Spain and Greece have both requested a 5-year postponement of the ban.

European Commission president Romano Prodi told the European Parliament on Wednesday that the Commission would take a "balanced decision" concerning deferral of the ban. Italian environment minister Edo Ronchi also played down fears surrounding a ban from 1 January 2000. "Alarmism is afoot. The EU Directive allows for delays of up to five years," the minister told journalists at the Rome foreign trade conference yesterday.

"Given that the alternative additives to lead haven't yet been proved satisfactory, I think the Commission will find a solution," Mr Ronchi said. He stressed the number of Italian vehicles that an immediate ban on leaded petrol would put off the road should not be overestimated. "There are 15 million cars without catalytic converters, but 10 million of these will still be able to run," he said.

Follow Up:
Italian environment ministry, tel: +39 06 70361.

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