The European Parliament’s environment committee has rejected the draft car emission rules agreed by representatives of the block’s 28 member states in the wake of the Volkswagen emission-cheating scandal.
Drafted by a special committee in October, the rules would allow cars to keep emitting more than twice the amount of NOx pollution set by legal limits. Member states with strong car industries especially pushed for the benevolent limits in order to protect their economies.
A resolution to send the rules back to the drawing board will now be put to MEPs in a plenary vote in January.
"In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, it's clear we need to urgently revise road emission tests, but the proposed exemptions agreed by EU governments are a disgrace," said Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a Dutch Liberal member of parliament.
"Harmful levels of air pollution would continue, despite the fact that emissions-control technologies are available and affordable today."
Thirteen members of the committee abstained from Monday's vote - mostly from the European People's Party, the largest bloc in the EU parliament.
If the rules are rejected by the Parliament in January, it may take up to two years for the European Commission to prepare a new proposal. Until then, existing guidelines with widely criticised lab testing methods would stay in place.
The revelation that German car-maker Volkswagen cheated in laboratory tests to mask real levels of nitrogen oxide emissions from its diesel vehicles triggered a major scandal that has stirred a debate about the veracity of existing testing methods. Experts are now calling for emissions to be tested in real driving conditions rather than in a lab.
Volkswagen used special software to detect when the car was being tested and turn on technologies to eliminate emissions during the time of the testing. For economic reasons, the technologies were not used during regular driving.
In defence of the October deal, a representative from the Commission, the EU executive, stressed the text was what members states were prepared to accept.
"This text is a compromise, you are right," Joanna Szychowska told parliamentarians. "We started with far more ambitious levels and the member states indicated that this is not what they could agree upon."
The car-makers said they would prefer the current draft to be passed to gain more time to implement the changes.
"We need a decision sooner rather than later," said Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the Association of European Carmakers (ACEA).
According to German media, the country’s authorities plan to review emissions and fuel usage of Volkswagen diesel vehicles in a second testing round once the company has installed fixes in cars caught up in the cheating scandal.
The data will be made public to ensure transparency.