Ministers to iron out EU scrap car deal

Producer responsibility, voluntary agreements, heavy metal use, on Council agenda

European environment ministers will reach a broad consensus on the draft EU directive on scrap cars when they meet next week, according to Brussels sources.

Ministers will hold only an "orientation debate" on the issue, rather than reaching a political agreement, after the European Parliament refused to give a first reading to the directive before next year (ENDS Daily 25 November). However, four months of negotiations have enabled most national differences of opinion to be ironed out, leaving the politicians to tackle just three outstanding issues.

The first is the extent to which car manufacturers should be financially responsible for the costs of scrapping old cars in an approved manner. With the support of a large majority of member states, Denmark is leading a call to maintain the Commission's original proposal that car makers should pick up the entire bill. Germany and France want to leave some discretion to individual governments.*

There is also disagreement over how far governments should be free to implement the directive through voluntary agreements with industry. Many countries, including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, the UK, France and Italy, already have voluntary agreements in place and there is pressure for these to be allowed to continue in some form. Elements that might be allowed include establishing a network of treatment facilities and requirements on reporting and consumer information.

Use of lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium in cars is a third issue due to be discussed by ministers, though significant changes are not now expected from an outline agreement already reached at working group level.

Whereas the Commission proposed requiring separation of these metals from waste deriving from cars built from 2003, the Council now wants to ban their use in new cars, effective 18 months after the directive enters into force.

According to the European Commission, this would mean a significant strengthening of the force of the law. However, some observers claim that the Commission's proposal would have constituted a de facto ban on use of the metals in cars anyway. In addition, governments look likely to agree a series of derogations for particular uses of the metals where they deem that no alternatives are available.

According to a Brussels diplomat, a draft annex to the directive prepared by the presidency includes derogations for applications for all the substances except cadmium. Mercury would be allowed in light bulbs; hexavalent chromium in corrosion preventative coating; and there are around ten derogations for the use of lead, including solder and steel alloys. Governments are likely to propose no specified time limits on the derogations.

On the other hand, the presidency is proposing that a European Commission committee should review the exemptions 12 months after the directive comes into force, in other words before a ban on use would come into effect.

* ENDS Daily understands that Sweden supports the majority group in favour of complete producer responsibility, not the German position as we reported in an earlier article (ENDS Daily 12 November).

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: + 32 2 285 6111.

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