EU "might reconsider" leaded petrol ban delays

Wallström to consult fellow commissioners after protests from Spain, Italy, Greece

The European Commission indicated today that it might reconsider plans to grant Italy, Spain and Greece only one extra year to implement an EU-wide ban on sales of leaded petrol due to enter into force on 1 January. A spokesperson for EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström said that "potentially new elements" had emerged during the EU Environment Council on Monday. Ms Wallström was "likely" to spark a new top-level debate in the Commission next week rather than finalise one-year derogations tomorrow, she said.

The three countries want to delay having to introduce the ban by between three and five years, claiming that necessary changes to their car fleets would otherwise be too expensive (ENDS Daily 10 December). Spain says 4m cars will be affected by the measure, Italy claims 1.7m.

Last week, Commission officials suggested that a deal allowing one-year exemptions for all three countries had been agreed and would be formalised without further debate among commissioners (ENDS Daily 7 December). Ms Wallström's spokesperson said today that it was now "probable" she would interrupt this process and put the issue on the Commission's agenda for its next meeting on 22 December. The commissioner nevertheless remained in favour of limiting derogations to one year only, the spokesperson stressed.

The development follows Spanish claims that Commission president Romano Prodi agreed during the Helsinki summit to prolong its and Italy's derogation from the ban by one year. At the Environment Council on Monday, Spanish environment minister Isabel Tocino told reporters this, adding: "Cars in Spain will be able to use this fuel for two more years."

But Mr Prodi's spokesperson yesterday denied the claim, saying it was "not the role of the president to overrule a decision like that". He also rubbished reports in the Spanish press today that Spanish EU commissioner Loyola de Palacio had already forced a Commission debate on the issue against opposition from Ms Wallström. The Commission had agreed that the next move was "in the hands of Ms Wallström," he said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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