The EU's diesel fiasco
Wherever you stand on climate change, the utterly cynical policy in Brussels to promote diesel caused a pollution nightmare. Now they're preparing to prosecute at least 5 governments for having polluted cities! And the European taxpayer is left with the bill for this fiasco. Thank goodness we voted for Brexit
Spring is springing in Italy, birds tweeting, the weather noticeably warmer. Italians are nervous both of the warm and the chilly, with women wearing fur coats in what to the British would seem a summer’s day.
Nevertheless, a few of the hardier are sitting outside the bars for their morning coffee or lunchtime aperitivo.
However, the sky above Rome is grey. The view from the Janiculum Hill is dull, lifeless, as if over a northern industrial town in winter. This is smog, the new scourge of Europe, and the top two offenders are Rome and London.
Regularly on Sundays, now, the Eternal City is closed to traffic, allowing a brief respite for the wind to blow off the sea and up the Tiber, cleansing the poison in the air.
Then we return to normal. Some blame the wood burning stoves of the fashionable middle classes, some mumble about climate change but everyone knows the real reason: diesel cars.
The story behind this is one of almost heartbreaking incompetence. In the mid 1990s, world leaders decided to spend billions to limit the rise in temperatures, identifying carbon dioxide as the culprit. Europe came up with its own solution: to promote the diesel engine, which produced less carbon dioxide than petrol engines.
In 1990, just 14 percent of cars sold in Europe were diesel (and an even lower 6.4 percent in Britain). Twenty years later this had risen to 52 percent (46 percent for Britain). This incredible transformation and its effects can be attributed directly to Brussels.
We are now aware that the Commissioners knew they were substituting one danger for another: that diesel engines produce higher levels of nitrous oxide and deadly particulates in the air, but it didn’t matter. Extra deaths were acceptable as long as we met the conditions of the Tokyo Accord.
The Transport Commissioner at the time was Neil Kinnock, now, incredibly, Lord Kinnock, scheming to keep us in the EU against our wishes.
The European Commission leaned on individual governments to give favourable treatment to diesel cars. In most countries diesel was taxed less, and vehicle excise duty was lower. With the longer life of the engine, it became the irresistible choice for car owners, as long as you could tolerate the clatter clatter when the engine started on a cold morning.
It is, I should mention in parenthesis, one of the reasons Italians can’t drive. A diesel engine produces less power and more torque, useful for giving a jolt forward: a diesel will happily surge past one car, not two or three, before running out of puff.
So hurried Italians sit on your back bumper then, injudiciously picking their moment, pull blindly out into the oncoming traffic, their eyes closed in the swirl of black smoke, before cutting dangerously in front of you while their engine recovers for the next onslaught. Ferraris run on petrol.
Such was the enthusiasm, however, for diesel cars that the Commission allowed different measurement procedures for domestic cars than for commercial vehicles. All trucks have to be tested on the road, whereas for cars they accepted the laboratory tests. This in turn has led to the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which is likely to spread to other manufacturers.
Now, of course, the European Commission has realised its mistake and it is, as usual, going to drop individual governments into the mire. After we have suffered an estimated €27 billion in lost taxes on diesel fuel and cars, then paid the Information department’s multi-million euro budget to broadcast our carbon righteousness to the world, the Commission is now preparing to prosecute at least five governments for having polluted cities.
We will also be left with the multi-billion euro bill for the clean-up. Car companies will have to change their production profiles; ordinary people will have to buy new cars because they cannot enter their home towns without a penalty notice.
Since then we have found that global warming paused as from 1998, while the carbon dioxide levels continued to rise. This has been a prime example of how authorities with too much power, like the European Commission, coupled with a slavish adherence to political correctness and a dizzying level of ignorance, can screw up people’s lives.
Britain has suffered from this bureaucratic débacle but at least we know that for us it will probably be the last. For Italy the nonsense continues.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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