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In July 2013, France decided to block the registration of certain new Daimler vehicles, namely: Mercedes Benz A-class, B-class and SL-class. At the heart of the associated dispute is whether the German car manufacturer broke internal market rules by reintroducing an air conditioning refrigerant that is not conformity with EU regulation for new car models.
On 25 September 2012, Daimler announced it would stop using the new car air conditioning refrigerant (R1234yf), based on a safety concern. This new coolant is the only available refrigerant that has a global warming potential of 150 or lower, required by EU directive No. 40/2006. According to the directive, all car models types approved after 1.1.2011 are obliged to use the new coolant.
When Daimler switched back to the old coolant (R134a) in March 2013, the firm is said to have violated the EU directive. However, German authorities granted the type of refrigerant approval retroactively. It is contested if this constitutes a violation of article 5 (para. 4) of the above mentioned directive.
The German authorities did not consider the vehicles to be new because the platform (floor unit) was already in use before 2011, which means that this class of Mercedes Benz models are considered so called 'face-lifts'.
The French authorities revoked the retrospective type approval and banned the sale of the above mentioned models on the French market. The authorities argued that the old refrigerant 'presents a serious risk to road safety and seriously harm the environment or public health'. (article 29, EU directive No. 46/2007). The French authorities thus rejected Daimler's argurment that the return to the old refrigerant was made to guarantee public health and road safety.
While the spokesman of Daimler said that the French authorities were not allowed to override the automatic recognition of the German type approval, EU Commission Vice President Tajani argued that Daimler behavior constitutes unfair competition in the internal market (see statement from 20 March 2013). The Commission's investigation is still ongoing.
While the measure appears to have an environmental purpose, the following considerations suggest the measure may in fact be a matter of murky or disguised protectionism:
Moreover, on 25 July 2013, the Versailles administrative court lifted the sales ban on Daimler cars and demanded that the French authorities reexamine the matter. In spite of the court decision the respective vehicles are not for sale again because the court can not impose a removal on the French authorities.
On 27 August 2013, France's highest court decided in favor of Mercedes and lifted the sales ban. The court ordered the French government to re-issue registrations for the respective Mercedes models. Even though the dispute is settled on a bilateral level it is likely that the European commission will pick up on this dispute.
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