European Union plans to make car manufacturers produce more fuel efficient engines run into trouble.

The European Commission has staked a claim to becoming the world leader in driving down carbon emissions with an overall target of cutting greenhouse gases by one-fifth by 2020. Divisions within the European Commission and failure to make agreements with car manufacturing countries within Europe mean this will not happen.

A proposal from Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas to force car companies to produce more fuel efficient engines within five years has been abandoned in favour of other plans. The emphasis is to switch to the development of biofuels, traffic management and driver behaviour across Europe, as suggested by European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry Gunter Verheugen.

Intense lobbying by the major car manufacturers has taken place, with warnings of factory closures. The cost of producing cars with lower emissions would also be passed on to the consumer, and mighty not necessarily have the desired effect of reducing carbon emissions says Sigrid de Vries from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association,

The debate should concentrate on...how to achieve maximum results in the most cost effective ways.

Environmental groups however say that transport is the biggest and fastest growing carbon emitter. and the sector has failed to meet its own voluntary targets.

The car industry have known for the last decade that action on carbon emissions if required, but are dragging their heels on the issue, says Art Peeters of the European Federation for Transport and Environment

Over the last 10 years they’ve only managed to reduce by ten or 12 per cent.

Greener cars will have a higher price tag, and it remains to be seen how much consumers are willing to pay. That in turn may require taxation, something for which member states have little appetite.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 24 January 2007. The reporter is Tony Connelly.