Emission to explain

Fairly or not, the EU usually appears in the UK’s newspapers in the role of the bully who gets his kicks from inflicting pointless humiliation on the little guy.

Butchers, greengrocers, tugboat captains and dog breeders are a few of the persecuted minorities singled out for inexplicable directives from Brussels, if you believe the headlines.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of these cases, there is a certain novelty in seeing the EU pitted against a worthier foe than, say, the Worshipful Company of Dog Breeders, whose bark is far worse than their bite and who can easily be hounded into submission.

A foe like China springs to mind or, most recently, the car industry, which today learned exactly how green the EU wants its cars to be by 2012.

And the exact figure is 130g of CO2 per kilometre of emissions, around 20 per cent lower than the current average.

Now, the automotive industry has rather more heft than the continent’s greengrocers, thanks to the hundreds of thousands of jobs and untold millions of euros worth of investment Europe enjoys as a result of its activities.

It isn’t happy, and is warning Brussels that the investment needed to meet those targets will translate into higher car prices and possibly lost jobs.

For its part, the environmental lobby is standing on the sidelines complaining that the 130g target is a stitch up and demanding that it be lowered even further.

All the ingredients for an entertaining contest then, but the eventual consequences will be deadly serious.

Few would argue that the EU has a duty to get emissions down, but the problem for the auto industry is that every technical innovation it comes up with to reduce emissions is offset by another imperative that pushes them back up.

For example, make a car lighter and therefore more fuel efficient on the one hand and you might be required to add a new safety measure (probably, oh the irony, by the EU) that puts weight back on again.

And here’s one thing the EU and the automotive industry have in common. The EU’s citizens are the industry’s customers, who have thus far shown scant appetite for the types of vehicles that already meet Brussels’ targets.

In the end it is the consumer that decides, and the EU probably needs to spend a bit more time convincing its people that, on this issue, it’s more a benefactor than a bully.

Andrew Lee


The Engineer & The Engineer Online