The European Commission is set to propose a strategy on clean and fuel-efficient cars by May, followed later by an action plan to help introduce green vehicles to the market.
Amid the economic slowdown, European automobile manufacturers have been calling on the European Commission to follow in the footsteps of the US and provide them with billions of euro in low-cost loans to help them develop environmentally-friendly vehicles as global car sales fall.
In late October 2008, the Commission announced it was "positive" about giving a €40 billion soft-loan package to the industry in the form of low interest-rate loans to support R&D into improving energy efficiency and lowering fuel consumption for new vehicles. It also agreed to allow member states to provide state aid for the industry on green innovation grounds (EurActiv 30/10/08).
Meeting in Brussels on 7 November, EU heads of state and government agreed on the necessity to "look beyond the financial crisis" and take measures to address the worsening economic situation (EurActiv 7/11/08).
EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani met with ministers in charge of industry on Friday (19 February) to discuss the economic challenges facing the European car industry.
The ministers identified green technologies as a strategic medium-term perspective for the industry to help it recover from the crisis and improve its competitiveness.
"A European strategy on Clean and Energy-Efficient Cars should be developed and implemented that sets out the necessary actions to encourage market introduction of green vehicles, including electric cars," the Commission said in a statement, issued after the informal meeting.
The communication should be published in time for a 25-26 May meeting of EU ministers in charge of competitiveness. An action plan is expected to follow the initiative at a later date.
While electric cars have been much discussed, one diplomat told EurActiv that the EU executive's communication would remain technology-neutral and address all technologies, including hydrogen and biofuels (EurActiv 08/02/10).
The Commission's aim is to make sure that, whatever the technology, EU member states coordinate their initiatives and ensure smooth functioning of the internal market.
The communication and action plan could thus trigger debate on European standards related to new technologies, as well as on harmonised infrastructure.
While the diplomat did not want to speculate on possible new funding for the initiative, he said the strategy could be used to "re-channel" existing funding programmes for green cars.
'CARS' 21 re-launch
The Commission said the CARS 21 High Level Group would be re-launched to structure the discussions.
First launched in 2005, the group brings together commissioners, ministers, MEPs, industry representatives and trade unions to improve the regulatory framework for the car industry and prepare it for future challenges.