We’re finding a way to save the car engine – POLITICO
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When it comes to the future of the internal combustion engine, Germany has its own way again.
The European Commission and Germany’s transport ministry announced an agreement on Saturday morning that commits the EU leader to finding a legal way to allow the sale of new engine-installed cars that run exclusively on synthetic e-fuel even after a mandate comes into force requiring the sale of only zero-emission vehicles from 2035.
“We have found an agreement with Germany on the future use of e-fuel in cars,”[ads1]; said the commission’s Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans. Twitter. “We will now work to get the CO2 standards for car regulation adopted as soon as possible.”
The agreement leads to a tussle over car legislation that was anything but unanimous until Germany, along with a small club of allies, hit the brakes just days before formal final approval of a law at the center of the EU’s green agenda.
Timmermans said the commission would “follow up quickly” with “legal steps” to turn a non-binding annex to the law, which was originally introduced at the insistence of Europe’s carmakers, Germany, into a concrete solution allowing new vehicles running on e – fuel, which emits some CO2, to be sold after 2035.
As a first step, the Commission has agreed to create a new category of e-fuel-only vehicles in the existing Euro 6 car rulebook, and then integrate this classification into the controversial CO2 standards legislation that imposes the phase-out date for sales in 2035. of new vehicles with combustion engines.
The terms of the final agreement from Timmermans’ chief of staff Diederik Samsom, seen by POLITICO, say the commission will reopen the text of the motor ban law if EU lawmakers manage to stop the introduction of a technical annex that would make room for e-fuels alongside the adopted CO2 the standards. Reopening the bill’s text is a move that is fundamentally opposed by the European Parliament and green-minded countries.
At the heart of the conflict was Germany demanding binding legal language that would ensure the commission would find a way to satisfy Berlin’s demands even if the European Parliament, or the courts, moved to block any adjustments or legal annexes to the zero-emissions legislation from 2035 covering cars and vans.
In the statement, Samsom promised that the commission will publish its entire proposal for e-fuel as a so-called delegated act this autumn. In practice, that means the original 2035 legislation will pass first – handing the European Commission a critical victory – but it sets up a future battle over the technical additions needed to satisfy Berlin.
“The law requiring 100 percent of cars sold after 2035 to be zero-emissions will be adopted unchanged by next Tuesday,” said Pascal Canfin, the French liberal lawmaker leading the case in the assembly. “Parliament will take a decision in good time on the commission’s future proposal on e-fuel.”
The agreement means that the energy ministers can sign off on the original proposal from 2035 during a meeting on Tuesday given that Berlin now has assurances that the requirements will be met. In advance, EU ambassadors will review the bilateral agreement between Brussels and Berlin on Monday, an EU diplomat said.
The agreement caps a decade of German pushback on EU emissions rules for cars.
In 2013, then-Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened late to water down previous iterations of the car emissions standards law, securing tweaks critical to the country’s huge auto industry.
Since the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, most carmakers have shifted their investments towards electric vehicles, but some industry interests, particularly high-end carmakers such as Porsche and Germany’s network of internal combustion engine component manufacturers, have tried to save traditional gas guzzlers from the clutches of a de facto EU sales ban.
Finding a final solution to e-fuels in the 2035 legislation will still take a few months, given that technical standards have not yet been finalized to set out a “robust and circumvention-proof” system for selling fuel-only cars. synthetic alternatives to petrol and diesel, according to Samsom’s statement.
The timeline is already clear in Berlin’s perspective. “We want the process to be completed by autumn 2024,” said the German Transport Ministry, which is run by the country’s Free Democratic Party. The FDP, the youngest in Germany’s three-way governing coalition, had wanted firm legal language to guarantee a loophole for e-fuels, which could theoretically be CO2-neutral but would not normally comply with emissions legislation since they still do. releases pollutants from the outlet pipe.
With the FDP’s popularity declining, the car policy row with Brussels has been a popular talking point in the German media in recent weeks. A survey reports that 67 per cent of those questioned are against the motorcycle ban law. Ahead of national elections late in 2025, the FDP is banking on driver-friendly policies such as e-fuel, new road building initiatives and a block on the implementation of a national motorway speed limit, to raise its profile.
Market watchers do not expect e-fuels to offer much in the way of a mass-market alternative to electric vehicles, given that they are expensive to produce and do not exist in commercial volumes today. A study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research reports that even if all global e-fuel production were allocated to German consumers, production would only meet a tenth of national demand in the aviation, maritime and chemical sectors by 2035.
“E-fuel is a costly and massively inefficient diversion from the transition to electric facing Europe’s carmakers,” said Julia Poliscanova of the green group Transport & Environment.
Despite not being on the formal agenda, the issue dominated discussions on the sidelines of this week’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels. An agreement between Brussels and Berlin was only reached at 9pm on Friday, hours after leaders left the EU capital, before being formally announced on social media early on Saturday.
“The way is clear,” German Transport Minister Volker Wissing said as he announced the deal. “We have secured opportunities for Europe by keeping important options open for climate-neutral and affordable mobility.”
The agreement means that Germany has effectively dropped its last-minute opposition to the car engine ban law, collapsing a blocking minority of Italy, Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic that had put up a roadblock to final ratification by ministers of the agreement reached last time. October between the three EU institutions.
It remains unclear whether Italy’s efforts to find its own solution for biofuels – promoted in person by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the summit – also succeeded. But without the support of Berlin, Rome has no way to block the legislation.
Responses to the commission drawing up a tailor-made solution for its largest member state to otherwise agreed legislation were generally negative, with many arguing that the e-fuel issue is a diversion.
“The opening to e-fuel does not mean a significant change for the transformation to electric cars,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, professor at the Center for Automotive Research in Duisburg. He said the commission’s deal-making raised “new investment uncertainties” that undermined the bloc’s efforts to catch up with China, the world’s leading producer of electric vehicles.
Still, most people are just happy that the internal combustion engine line has ended, for now.
“It’s good that this deadlock is over,” said German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, who backed the original 2035 agreement without a reference to e-fuels. “Anything else would have seriously damaged both confidence in European procedures and in Germany’s reliability in European politics,” the minister said in a statement.