Revealed: How Italy tried diluting EU car emission rules

Italy’s EU representation in Brussels took the unusual step of sending detailed voting recommendations to Italian members of the European Parliament earlier this month, asking them to reject a proposed EU ban on petrol and diesel cars, according to e-mails obtained by EURACTIV.

The proposed ban was narrowly adopted in the end, with parliamentarians voting on 8 June in favour of proposals to reduce CO2 emissions from cars by 100% by 2035 instead of the 90% target tabled by conservative lawmakers and supported by Italy.

The European Commission last year unveiled plans to stop the sale of vehicles using internal combustion engines by 2035 as part of a wider climate target to cut emissions by more than half before the end of this decade.

Emails obtained by EURACTIV show how Rome sought to dilute those plans, with the Italian Permanent Representation in Brussels sending detailed voting recommendations to MEPs.

One of the leaked e-mails, dated 3 June, says: “We support ambitious and economically sustainable solutions towards low and zero emissions mobility, which include a credible commitment to reduce emissions, even without envisaging a ‘phasing-out’ of vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2035.”

“In this sense, they may include targets of less than 100% for that year (such as, for example, 90%).”

In another e-mail, dated 6 June, the Italian representation makes explicit voting recommendations to Italian MEPs, saying amendments 77 and 126 “are in line with the guidelines of the government”.

Those amendments were tabled by the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which includes Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the right-wing French Les Républicains party, and Germany’s CDU-CSU alliance.

In a statement on 7 June, the EPP group in Parliament said it wants to “leave room for manoeuvre” to the automotive industry “by introducing a -90% reduction target for cars and vans by 2035”.

“Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket when setting new rules for clean cars,” said Jens Gieseke, a German CDU lawmaker who was the EPP negotiator on the proposed EU emission rules for new cars and vans in Parliament.

“Member states whose economies are heavily reliant on the car industry must get space and time to adjust and find solutions,” Gieseke argued at the time, warning that the proposed phase-out of petrol and diesel cars “could put up to 500,000 jobs at risk in the automotive industry”.

On top of the 90% target, the EPP also proposed a “voluntary crediting scheme” to support the uptake of alternative fuels in the automotive sector.

The Italian Permanent Representation to the EU did not return calls or emails from EURACTIV asking for comment.

But Italian Green MEP Eleonora Evi confirmed to EURACTIV that she did receive the e-mails.

It is not unusual for the Italian Permanent Representation to state Rome’s preferences on proposed legislation, Evi told EURACTIV in a phone interview, saying this takes place “on a regular basis”, especially for votes on legal texts related to complex technical matters.

“And that’s fine. But what is not fine, in my opinion, is the second email with specific indications on how to vote” on specific amendments to the legislative proposal tabled by the Commission, she said.

Evi said this was the first time she received such an email in the eight years she has been serving as an MEP. “The worst part is that there was a clear indication to vote down the Commission proposal.”

According to her, the move by the Italian Permanent Representation was “quite upsetting” also because Prime Minister Mario Draghi has not yet taken a public stance on the matter.

“Is the prime minister aware of this?” she asked.

At the end of the day, Evi said, this is also “a matter of democracy” because the Italian Parliament was not consulted on the proposal.

“My question here is, what will be the position of the Italian government? Because so far, there is no transparency, no democracy. For me, it is really outrageous that Italy could come up with such a position and in the end undermine the entire process.”

Transport and Environment (T&E), a clean mobility NGO, was also surprised. “Italy likes to talk progressive on climate, but in private, the government lobbied MEPs to keep polluting cars on the road,” said Veronica Aneris, director of T&E Italy.

“Where does Prime Minister Draghi really stand? His government claims to listen to the climate science but the environment and industry ministries listen to car industry laggards who want to profit from a dirty technology for as long as possible.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]