Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Sixth Report





COM(01) 241

Draft Council Directive on the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and amending Directive 98/70/EC.

Legal base:

Article 95 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting




Basis of consideration:

Second SEM of 25 June 2002

Previous Committee Report:

HC 152-ix (2001-02), paragraph 15 (5 December 2001)

To be discussed in Council:

No further date set

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Cleared (decision reported on 5 December 2001)



    1. In 1998, the Council adopted, as part of its so-called "Auto Oil" proposal, Directive 98/70/EC,[34] which set various quality standards for petrol and diesel fuels, aimed at complementing other measures intended to improve emission standards from road transport. In particular, the Directive prohibited the marketing of leaded petrol from 1 January 2000, subject to a derogation allowing its use under exceptional circumstances until 1 January 2005. It also allowed, with effect from 1 January 2000, the marketing of unleaded petrol and diesel meeting certain detailed standards, coupled with the requirement for all such petrol and diesel to meet those standards by 1 January 2005. However, although the latter include a maximum sulphur content of 50mg/kg (parts per million), the specification is in other respects incomplete. The Commission was therefore required to review it, and to make a further proposal in the light of air quality needs and the progress in vehicle emission abatement technology. The results of that review are set out in the current proposal, which it brought forward in May 2001.
    2. In its proposal, the Commission concentrated on sulphur, where it said that some Member States and fuel producers had already indicated their intention to introduce zero sulphur fuels, and, in view of this, it launched a consultation exercise in May 2000. This showed that sulphur in fuels can impair the effectiveness of several existing and emerging technologies, but that the production of zero sulphur fuel also increases emissions of carbon dioxide from refineries. Notwithstanding this, the Commission proposed that sulphur-free fuels (defined as those containing less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur) must be available in Member States by 1 January 2005, and that, by 1 January 2011, all petrol and diesel sold should be sulphur-free. However, it also suggested that, in the case of diesel, the latter date should be reviewed by 31 December 2006. In addition, the proposal required that the sulphur content of fuel used in non-road mobile machinery and agricultural tractors should be limited to 2000 ppm, reducing to 1000 ppm in 2008.
    3. The Commission said that the proposal to allow zero sulphur fuel by 1 January 2005 was consistent with the entry into force then of new vehicle emission limits, and that it should also assist manufacturers to meet their voluntary commitments to reduce average carbon dioxide emissions. It added that the optimum saving in greenhouse gas emissions would be achieved by phasing in zero sulphur fuels to match the quantity required by new vehicles, so as to avoid unnecessary additional costs and emissions of carbon dioxide at the refineries, but that, in the case of conventional air pollutants, optimal reductions would be obtained by full market penetration of such fuels as soon as possible, particularly for petrol vehicles. It also said that, as it was difficult to predict how refinery technologies would advance, the magnitude of the costs and additional carbon dioxide emissions from refineries were uncertain.
    4. Against this background, the Commission considered that its proposal for full penetration of zero sulphur petrol by 1 January 2011 would give a suitable mix of conventional air quality benefits, fuel cost savings, and overall carbon dioxide emissions. However, in the case of diesel, it recognised that, unlike petrol, the distribution infrastructure was designed for a single grade of product, and that the supply of two grades could introduce additional costs. Consequently, although it regarded this deadline as giving a clear signal for diesel, it saw the proposed review as enabling account to be taken of any technological developments in the meantime in both refining and vehicles.
    5. In an Explanatory Memorandum of 24 July 2001, the Government told us that the main aim of the proposal was to facilitate new fuel-efficient technology needed to help the industry meet its environmental targets, and improve emissions from existing vehicles. The Government also said that it was considering the detailed implications of the proposal, and that it would be supplying a Regulatory Impact Assessment. In the meantime, it provided an initial estimate of the costs and environmental benefits, which is summarised in paragraphs 15.11 and 15.12 of our Report of 5 December 2001. The promised Regulatory Impact Assessment was supplied under cover of a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 19 November 2001. This confirmed the figures supplied earlier, but it also provided a more detailed analysis of the overall impact of the proposal, which was set out in paragraphs 15.14 and 15.15 of our earlier Report.
    6. We concluded that this was an important proposal in its impact both on private and commercial transport and on the environment, but that we nevertheless believed that the issues which arose on it had been brought out clearly by the Commission and in the material provided subsequently by the Government. We therefore cleared it.
    7. Second Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 25 June 2002

    8. In a Second Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 25 June 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport (Mr David Jamieson) has provided information on the Common Position reached by the Council, which he says takes into account the opinion of the European Parliament at its first reading. He identifies the main changes from the Commission's earlier proposal as being:

    • the final date for the introduction of zero/low sulphur petrol has been moved forward from January 2011 to January 2009;

    • likewise, the Commission will now have to confirm the final date in the case of diesel by 2005, rather than 2006;

    • when addressing the next stage of emission standards, the Commission has been asked to consider requirements for improved fuel quality for use in non-road mobile machinery;

    • Member States will be able to introduce more stringent fuel specifications in areas where there is a risk of groundwater contamination;

    • in reviewing standards, the Commission will now be required to consider the need to change fuel parameters other than sulphur, to encourage the introduction of alternative fuels (including biofuels), and to consider the impact of metallic additives on the performance of abatement technologies.

    1. The Minister adds that the European Parliament amendments not accepted by the Council included one on fiscal incentives, in view of the inappropriate legal base of the proposal, and one which sought to define what constitutes a "balanced geographical basis" for making fuel available.
    2. The Minister says that the Government strongly supports the Council's Common Position, and in particular the choice of 2009 as the date by which all road fuels must meet the new sulphur content limit. It also supports the request to the Commission to bring forward proposals for fuel used in non-road mobile machinery.
    3. The proposal will now be considered by the European Parliament at a second reading.
    4. Conclusion

    5. We are grateful to the Minister for this further information, from which we note the Government's strong support for the Council's Common Position. We also note that the proposal will now go to the European Parliament for a second reading.


34   OJ No. L 350, 28.12.98, p.58. Back

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