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Brussels Tiff Over CO2 Rules for Cars

Ministers are divided on how the burden of cutting emissions should be spread among producers of big and small cars

EU environment ministers have reconfirmed the bloc's goal to cut green gas emissions from cars but failed to agree on the exact distribution of the climate change burden between makers of big and small vehicles.

Meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (28 June), ministers gave unanimous support to the long-term target of cutting average CO2 emissions to 120 grammes per km by 2012.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas praised the move, saying "This sends a clear message to the car industry that current efforts to reduce emissions must continue and must be intensified and accelerated."

According to the plan, the reduction should be achieved partly through vehicle technology improvements and by higher use of biofuels.

But the sticking point remains how the work on cutting emissions should be divided between producers of big, gas-guzzling cars and smaller vehicles, which are less harmful to the climate.

The row reflects the spread of different types of car industries across Europe.

France and Italy which make largely small cars, like Peugeot, Citroen or Fiat, are pressing for the same standards to apply to all producers.

Meanwhile, Germany - home of powerful and luxury cars made by BMW, Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes - suggests bigger cuts for big emitters, but argues it is not possible for them to follow the same rules as lighter cars.

"If you have more than 60 percent mid-size cars in the EU and 20 percent big cars, you cannot reach the 120 grammes target only by reducing the emissions of big cars. This is not possible. It's not a question of politics, it's a question of mathematics," said Sigmar Gabriel, German environment minister.

"The competition problem is a tough nut to crack," he added, at a press conference following the ministerial debate.

The European Commission is due to propose concrete legislation, with binding targets, later this year and in early 2008, including its own suggestions on how to tackle the big and small car issue.

The initiative comes after the car industry proved likely to miss a voluntary target to cut average emissions for new cars to 140 grammes of CO2 per kilometre by 2008. The current average is around 163 grammes.

Back in January, German chancellor Angela Merkel herself came out in support of her country's car industry, opposing "a general obligation under which all cars, regardless of the segment in which they are produced, have to follow the same standards."

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