Meeting in Luxembourg yesterday (16 June), the EU's 27 transport ministers cautioned that the European Commission's proposals, outlined in March this year, should not disadvantage European companies compared with their competitors in Asia or the US.
"In order to maintain the Union's competitiveness, similar commitments should be sought at international level," they said.
A proposed objective to cut transport emissions by 60% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels was dismissed as too difficult to attain.
"In the opinion of many delegations, the 60% reduction objective is too ambitious and should be considered an indicative target, not a binding one," said the Hungarian EU Presidency in a statement.
Some countries stressed that such a target could only be met at the cost of "a complete change in the transport sector," which is today almost totally dependent on fossil fuels.
"Today there are no alternative to fossil fuels [that is] competitive in terms of technology and price," ministers admitted in a statement.
The newer EU members from Eastern Europe were the most vocal in rejecting a binding 60% target, while others such as Austria argued that they were achievable and should even be increased, said an EU official close to the talks.
Eastern members particularly highlighted wide disparities in transport infrastructure between East and West as a major obstacle to a one-size-fits-all objective on transport emissions.
"Some member states point out that, although the White Paper mentions differences between the transport infrastructure in different EU regions, no initiatives or measures are specifically proposed to eliminate these differences," notes the Council's conclusions.
France, Germany and the other countries of 'older' Europe were not opposed but cautious, the official said, adding that the 60% objective was "generally accepted" as long as it remained indicative.
CO2 cuts linked to technology breakthroughs
The European Commission itself stresses that the 60% goal is not binding as such but would be met with a combination of other measures, including freeing cities from oil-fuelled cars by 2050.
But some countries underlined that such an objective is directly linked to technological breakthroughs and should therefore not be taken for granted.
Marjeta Jager, the European Commission's director-general for transport and mobility, warned earlier in May that it would be a "fatal mistake" to postpone measures to reduce oil dependency.
"If action is delayed, in the not-too-distant future we may be forced to drastically reduce all our mobility and import technological solutions from other part of the world," Jager said.