EU backs down on leaded petrol ban

Greece, Spain, Italy, given two years for leaded petrol phase-out, despite "lack of technical evidence"

The European Commission has permitted three EU countries to delay banning sales of leaded petrol for two years beyond the EU-wide deadline of 1 January, while continuing to argue that the derogations are not technically justified. EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström, who had previously insisted on derogations of no more than one year, insisted the outcome was not a defeat for her. It was, she maintained, a pragmatic decision, aimed at securing greater cooperation from member states on environmental issues in future.

The Commission said it was allowing the exemptions "to avoid widespread disruption" due to "consumer uncertainty" in the three countries. Ms Wallström said the countries had failed to inform their citizens properly of the consequences of the phase-out. "Some...said they were counting on five years, and haven't made the necessary preparations."

According to the 1998 EU directive on fuel quality which introduced the ban, derogations lasting up to five years are possible if member states can prove either that severe socioeconomic problems will arise or that the ban will have no environmental benefit. The member states "have not convincingly demonstrated that severe socioeconomic problems would ensue," the Commission said today.

Ministers from the three countries lobbied the commissioner hard for a longer derogation (ENDS Daily 15 December). Italy claimed that 1.7m cars would not be able to run on unleaded petrol, while Spain said 4m of its cars would be affected. The Commission insisted today, however, that it "does not believe that older cars need to be scrapped when leaded petrol is phased out."

In related decisions announced today, four of France's overseas departments - Réunion, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyana - were granted a five-year exemption from the leaded petrol ban because of their remoteness, their dependence on fuel supplied to other markets and their "general socioeconomic level." Réunion also received permission to delay reductions in the sulphur content of petrol and diesel for three years. Portugal won derogations of two years over sulphur in petrol and one year for sulphur in diesel.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: See Commission press release dated 20/12/99 on Rapid.

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