Toxic germanity and the battle for ‘das Auto’ – POLITICO
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BERLIN — Europe’s worst-kept secret is that the Germans ultimately decide everything.
“I will never forget how all the other member states held on in anticipation, waiting to see what the Germans would do,” a senior British official said recently, reminiscing about his time in Brussels, at a private dinner in MPs and other German officials in Berlin.
The souvenir was intended as a compliment, one that the official hoped to please him with the Germans around the table.
Sadly, it worked.
The second worst kept secret in Brussels is that despite all the kumbaya “peace project”, the Germans actually like to dominate the place. That said, even stalwart veterans of the European bubble have struggled in recent days to cite a more egregious example of toxic germanity than Berlin’s last-minute intervention to save the internal combustion engine.
To recap: last week, EU countries were due to approve a package of measures to rid Europe’s roads of combustion cars. Under the plan, the EU would ban new registrations of cars with internal combustion engines from 2035. The sweeping deal, the culmination of years of painstaking negotiations in Brussels and European capitals, is a pillar of the EU’s ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral. by 2050.
Berlin’s eleventh-hour intervention on a deal everyone thought was done and dusted off not only left EU environmental policy in limbo, it also laid bare the bloc’s vertical of power across the board. its dubious Teutonic glory. The message: Germany isn’t even trying to hide its power anymore.
“For the French, the situation also represents an opportunity and they are never the type to spoil a good crisis,” said a European diplomat. “The more they can contribute to the idea that Germany is going it alone, the more it reinforces the idea that the Germans are an unreliable partner in Europe.”
Germany’s unprecedented move has raised fears that other countries will try to follow its example and hijack EU reforms by threatening last-minute vetoes to win concessions, rewriting the rules of commitment.
The Germans may not be known for their finesse, but even so, Berlin’s bare-knuckle engine-saving tactics didn’t just shock Brussels veterans, it angered them.
This is why the real meaning of the impasse has less to do with CO2 emissions than with the functioning of Brussels. A big concern among EU insiders is that the coalition Germany has assembled to save the car, which includes countries like Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, will become a bloc on other fronts, with or without German support.
It’s easy to scoff at the circuitous nature of EU decision-making, the back and forth between the European Commission, Parliament and Council, communicated in the opaque dialect of earnest Eurocrats in Brussels.
As boring as it is, alchemy produces authentic results that legitimize and support the EU.
That Germany is willing to tinker with this delicate balance betrays either ignorance in the current regime of how the EU works, or ambivalence, or both.
One could argue with reason that Germany was never going to kill the goose that lay the golden eggs. Invented and perfected in Germany for more than a century by Mercedes, BMW and Audi, the internal combustion engine has been the source of German pride and prosperity for generations.
The image of a piston-powered Porsche 911 hurtling down the autobahn is as central to German identity as sex is to the French.
Take that away, what’s left (besides beer and bratwurst)?
Indeed, given that the country’s automakers haven’t proven particularly adept at making electric cars (or more specifically the batteries at the heart of vehicles), there were good reasons for Germany to develop synthetic fuels. low emissions that would keep the combustion engine alive.
Berlin had at least a decade to do so.
The fact is, he didn’t, choosing instead to pour billions into subsidizing the purchase of electric vehicles and the infrastructure to charge them (full disclosure: the author is a beneficiary of such a subsidy).
Moreover, Germany has also encouraged other European countries to follow suit. In fact, Berlin’s views on “the future of mobility” were so clear that Mercedes, VW and BMW pledged to go all-electric by 2035. The group of countries that served as a test bed to these companies, from Slovakia to Hungary and Austria, all agreed to go.
That’s why Germany’s insistence this month for the EU to create an exception to the engine ban for cars powered by synthetic fuels, known as e-fuels, caught the rest of Europe off guard. .
Why now? In a word, politics.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats have fallen below 20% in a number of recent polls, putting them more than 10 percentage points behind the leading Christian Democrats.
Scholz’s smaller coalition partner, the business-oriented Free Democrats (FDP), is in even worse shape. The party has performed miserably in a series of recent regional elections and in national polls it falters dangerously close to the 5% threshold that parties must pass to enter parliament.
Party leader Christian Lindner, who used to drive pumped up Porsches on the famous Nürburgring circuit, has vowed to save the engine from the clutches of the green lobby.
Scholz, well aware that the base of his party also remains attached to “das Auto”, was content to let him try and did not intervene for the moment.
Around 1 million Germans work in the car industry and many of those jobs – especially with suppliers – would be lost if the engine were killed for the simple reason that electric cars have far fewer (and different) parts than traditional cars.
The real mystery is why the Greens, the other party in Germany’s ruling triumvirate, have not done more to resolve the crisis. Not only has the Green Party championed the motor ban for years, but it is also the most pro-European party in government and would normally struggle to stop Berlin from appearing to undermine Brussels.
Yet Green Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck has remained largely silent on the issue. Away from the fray in Europe, he was last seen in the Amazon having his face painted by a native girl during a swing in the region.
In a bid to defuse the stalemate ahead of next week’s EU leaders’ summit, the German government sent a letter to the Commission on Wednesday, explaining what it wants in return for lifting its blockade. Its main demand – a broad exception for e-fuels – has already been rejected by Parliament and other institutions during initial negotiations on the package.
Reversing this would require reopening the deal.
The French are sure to cry foul.
And then Germany will go ahead anyway.
Joshua Posaner contributed reporting.