The EU Commission was not acting within its powers to set lower emissions standards for new diesel cars than for older models, the European Court of Justice has ruled, in a case brought by Brussels-Capital Region, Madrid and Paris. The norms for nitric oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel cars were set by the EU in 2007, but the scandal surrounding cheating on emissions tests which came to light led the Commission to propose testing for NOx in real driving circumstances. The car industry lobbied for an exception for new vehicles, which allowed them to exceed the 80mg per kilometre limit from 2007 by 110%, to 168mg/km.
That number will go down to 120mg/km in 2021, but that is still substantially higher than the base 80mg/km limit.
The European Court has now declared the exception invalid, reasoning that the Commission was acting outside of its authority in making the change. The case was brought by Brussels, Madrid and Paris, three capital cities that are working to reduce diesel emissions, and who saw the more flexible limits as an undermining of their efforts – “permission to pollute,” as the complaint put it. Brussels mayor Philippe Close described the verdict as “a great victory” for the three cities on Twitter.
The existing higher limits for new vehicles will remain in force for the time being. The Commission has been given one year to bring the rules into line. The authorities in Paris had requested symbolic damages of one euro, a request which the Court rejected.