A deal to increase the fuel efficiency of cars and reduce their CO2 emissions was today halted in Brussels after German chancellor Angela Merkel called in favours from British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The UK had been expected to support an agreement reached with MEPs on Monday that calls for fuel efficiency improvements of more than 25% by 2020, reducing CO2 emissions from new cars to an average of 95g/km.
A study by the European Commission suggests that the fuel efficiency deal could save as much as £850 for an average driver and secure a 6% reduction in UK oil imports.
But government officials were today told to be prepared to join with Germany in blocking the deal after Angela Merkel made a personal call to David Cameron.
As a result Ireland, the current holders of the EU presidency, took the item off the agenda of COREPER (the meeting of EU ambassadors) rather than risk defeat in a vote
The move will cause fury amongst Liberal Democrats whose transport minister, Norman Baker, yesterday assured EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard that the deal had his support.
German carmakers fear that their luxury brands would have difficulty meeting the emissions requirements unless arrangements are made to meet their needs.
But German proposals for extra ‘supercredits’ to be awarded for every electric car manufactured had failed to win the support of either the European Parliament or other governments.
Environmentalists fear that progress could now be blocked indefinitely as the EU Presidency will now be handed to Lithuania whose representatives have played virtually no part in the negotiations.
Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies, the party’s environment spokesman, won parliamentary backing for the 95g target back in 2007, and was a member of the negotiating team that on Monday recommended that it be confirmed in law.
He claimed that the German move to block the agreement was opposed by car manufacturers inBritain, and he accused David Cameron of betraying the interests both of car drivers and the environment.
Davies said: “Back in April, David Cameron and his wife enjoyed a weekend away at a castle near Berlin courtesy of Angela Merkel and her husband. Now the German chancellor has called in the favour.
“It may be argued that a final decision has only been postponed, but no-one should be under any doubt that this move by David Cameron will cause deep resentment amongst other EU governments and his own coalition partners.”