Around 150 of the 200 amendments proposed by the Parliament's environment committee last month were accepted by the plenary (ENDS Daily 19 March). More than 300 of the 400 MEPs present voted in favour of tightening two draft directives on emission limits and fuel quality. These introduce tighter limits on emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, a radical cut in the sulphur and benzene content of motor fuels and mandatory, as opposed to indicative, exhaust emission limits for 2005.
In order to win the support of MEPs from southern EU member states, the Parliament agreed to give a four year derogation to "countries with severe socio-economic difficulties" to meet fuel quality standards due to be met by 2000. MEPs from Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain had particularly expressed concern about the potential costs of stricter limits on the sulphur content of fuels.
The Parliament's votes drew some criticism from both industry and environmental groups. The oil industry's trade association Europia said the European Parliament had "disregarded three years of sound research underpinning the Auto/Oil programme". Brussels-based environmental group Transport & Environment criticised the derogation for southern European states, saying Parliament had "agreed that the lives of its citizens are worth less than protecting the most ancient and decrepit sections of the refining industry".
Two European Commissioners Ritt Bjerregaard and Christos Papoutsis attended the plenary session in Strasbourg. They indicated that they would reject most of the Parliament's proposed amendments.
Nevertheless, chairman of the Parliament's environment committee, Ken Collins, expressed delight at the outcome of the votes. As the Auto/Oil programme is subject to the co-decision procedure - which gives Parliament and Council equal legislative powers - he said the strong show of support at first reading would considerably strengthen Parliament's hand in future negotiations.
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2860; Europia, tel +32 2 226 1911; Transport & Environment, tel: +32 2 537 6639.
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