Cars in Europe will soon have to become cleaner.
On Monday evening, Merkel was once again the target of sharp critique from the Green Party following a compromise agreement with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on future emissions regulations for automobiles driven on European roads. The two agreed to introduce lower emission requirements more slowly than originally foreseen and to lessen initial penalties on car makers that fail to meet the restrictions.
Green Party leader Renate Künast, however, blasted Merkel for weakening Germany's emissions reduction goals. "The agreement means nothing good for climate protection in Europe," Künast told the newspaper Passauer Neuen Presse. "It is typical of Merkel: She starts off as a climate saviour and in the end she dissects it to the point that there is little left for the climate at the end." Künast also accused Merkel of caving in to the automobile industry.
Last year, the European Union unveiled a plan to require automakers to reduce emissions to 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer by 2012 -- with the overall goal of 120 grams per kilometer to be reached through greater reliance on biofuels, driver training courses and technological measures. The emission target is seen as an average for the entire fleet produced by a carmaker, meaning that a company could offer hyper-efficient subcompact models to offset the greater emissions of a larger luxury sedans and SUVs.
German automakers, however, protested that they would be unfairly disadvantaged as a result, given that most car companies in the country, including Daimler, BMW and Audi, specialize in larger luxury automobiles that emit more CO2. The sports cars built by Porsche are also well above the EU target average. Even the most fuel efficient Mercedes, the C200 CDI Blue Efficiency, emits 133 grams of CO2 per kilometer.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, however, was not initially in the mood to compromise. French automakers like Renault, Citroen and Peugeot make their money with fuel efficient compacts. But with France set to take over the rotating EU presidency on July 1 -- and Sarkozy with a long to-do list containing many items where he will need German support -- Paris elected to give in to Merkel's request for changes. The compromise deal still needs to be approved by the rest of the EU's 27 member states.
Under the deal agreed to by Merkel and Sarkozy, automakers would have more time to introduce fuel efficient models. Plus, efficiency improvements made in areas other than the engine -- better tires, for example, or energy saving air conditioning systems -- would count towards CO2 reduction, to the tune of six to eight grams of CO2 per kilometer.
The automobile industry in Germany was cautiously supportive of the compromise agreement. Matthias Wissmann, head of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel that "the proposal is better than that from the European Commission but not ideal.
Werner Schnappauf of the Federation of German Industries praised Merkel for her energetic support of Germany's automakers and said the compromise was "not optimal but acceptable."