European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso supports forcing car makers to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, EU officials said Tuesday, deflecting questions over a split in the EU executive on proposed legislation.
The split forced a postponement of a decision by the EU executive that had been scheduled for Wednesday.
"These proposals have been postponed because they were not yet ready for debate and adoption," spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said. "The president felt indeed that more time was needed."
The EU's 27-member executive commission was due to decide at its regular weekly meeting on plans drafted by EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas that included mandatory emissions limits for new cars as part of a stepped-up EU fight against climate change.
Ahrenkilde Hansen said Barroso backed Dimas' draft to introduce EU-wide laws to cut average car emissions to 120 grams per kilometer in 2012. Currently, the average is around 163 grams.
EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen has spoken out against the move, forcing an embarrassing delay in a decision by the commission -- which has long warned car manufacturers it would legislate to reduce emissions if they did not meet targets set by a 2004 voluntary agreement.
Manufacturers complain that such rules would push up costs and put jobs at risk. They also argue the rules unfairly target them, rather than oil companies or other means of transport.
The internal EU split comes just two weeks after Barroso launched a sweeping new strategy to combat climate change, calling on nations to develop a greener energy policy and to adopt a "low-carbon economy."
Ahrenkilde Hansen said the delay did not signal backtracking over Barroso's pro-environmental strategy.
"The president is indeed very committed to all these different measures to move to a low-carbon economy," she said. "The level of ambition is maintained and we simply need a little more time to reach a large consensus within the commission."
Dimas claims enforced rules are now needed as the industry has failed to cut pollution in line with the voluntary agreement. Under that deal, major European, Japanese and South Korean carmakers agreed to cut CO2 by 25 percent of 1995 levels by 2008 or 2009, with further cuts by 2012.
So far, the EU says emissions have fallen by 12.4 percent and Dimas says there is no possibility the manufacturers will meet the target without new constraints.
When and if the new rules are presented and endorsed by the EU executive, the proposed law would still need the backing of EU governments and the European Parliament.