The successful conclusion of conciliation talks between the two institutions came with little over a day to run in the UK's term as EU presidency. UK environment minister Michael Meacher welcomed it as a "milestone" on the road to better air quality and a "genuine triumph" for cooperation between the Parliament and the Council.
EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard paid tribute to the Auto/Oil process of technical cooperation between the European Commission and the oil and vehicle manufacturing industries that underpinned its legislative proposals.
The conciliation talks were sparked by differences between EU governments and the European Parliament in two key areas: whether to set indicative or mandatory fuel and emission standards for 2005, and how strict several specific standards should be, including the thorny issue of sulphur levels.
In the end, the Council conceded mandatory standards for 2005, while the Parliament accepted the standards desired by the Council (ENDS Daily 20 June 1997) rather than more stringent limits it had pushed for (ENDS Daily 18 February). After ratification by both sides this autumn, EU emissions limits for cars and light vans will now be tightened in 2000 and again in 2005. New specifications for petrol (gasoline) and diesel will come into force on the same dates.
Under the fuel quality directive, sulphur limits for 2000 will be 350 parts per million (ppm) in diesel and 150ppm in petrol. The limit will be tightened to 50ppm for both fuels in 2005. The Parliament had called for a 2005 limit of 30ppm, with strong support from the European car industry, which argues that very low sulphur levels are needed to enable the introduction of new, cleaner engine designs.
Allowable levels of aromatics and benzene in 2000 and 2005 are also set by the directive. Limits on a range of other fuel constituents will be set only for 2000, with 2005 standards to be proposed by the Commission by December 1999. From 2000, EU member states will be permitted to use fiscal instruments to support the marketing of fuels meeting 2005 standards. Meanwhile, leaded petrol will be banned by 2000, with derogations for some countries up to 2005.
The other directive (which combines two formerly separate proposals) will cut emissions from petrol-engined cars by 30-40% by 2000 and from diesel-engined cars by up to 50%, according to the EU presidency. Under the agreement, EU countries will be permitted to promote 2005-standard vehicles from 2000 through tax incentives. From 2000, new cars will have to comply with their design emissions limits for 80,000km (or five years), rising to 100,000km in 2005.
Under another provision of the directive, new vehicles will have to be fitted with "on-board diagnostics" to monitor emissions - petrol-engined ones from 2000 and diesel-engined ones from 2003. A new "cold-start" emissions test for vehicles will be introduced in 2002.
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