We’ll find a way to save the car’s engine – POLITICO

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When it comes to the future of the internal combustion engine, Germany has once again made its mark.

The European Commission and the German Ministry of Transport announced a deal on Saturday morning that commits the EU executive to find a legal way to allow the sale of new cars equipped with an engine running exclusively on synthetic electronic fuels, even after the entry into force of a mandate requiring the sale of only zero-emission vehicles from 2035.

“We have reached an agreement with Germany on the future use of e-fuels in cars,” said Commission Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans. Twitter. “We will now work to get CO2 standards adopted for car regulation as soon as possible.”

The deal leads to a row over motoring legislation that was all but agreed until Germany, with a small club of allies, put the brakes on days before formal final approval of a law that is the centerpiece of the EU’s green agenda.

Timmermans said the Commission would ‘follow quickly’ with ‘legal steps’ to turn a non-binding appendix to the law, originally introduced at the insistence of Europe’s car-making titan Germany, into a concrete workaround. allowing new vehicles running on e-fuels, which emit CO2, to be sold after 2035.

As a first step, the Commission agreed to create a new category of electric fuel-only vehicles in the existing Euro 6 car regulations, then to integrate this classification into the controversial CO2 standards legislation which imposes the phase-out date progressive 2035 for sales. new combustion engine vehicles.

The terms of Timmermans chief of staff Diederik Samsom’s final deal, seen by POLITICO, say the Commission will reopen the text of the motor ban law if European lawmakers manage to stop the introduction of a technical annex that would make room for e-fuels alongside agreed CO2 standards. The reopening of the text of the proposed law is a decision that the European Parliament and environmentally conscious countries fundamentally oppose.

The crux of the impasse was that Germany demanded binding legal language that would ensure that the Commission would find a way to meet Berlin’s demands even if the European Parliament or the courts decided to block any adjustments or legal annexes to the zero legislation 2035 issue. covering cars and vans.

In the statement, Samsom promised that the Commission would publish its full e-fuels proposal as a delegated act this fall. In practice, this means the original 2035 legislation will pass initially – handing the European Commission a critical victory – but it sets up a future fight over the technical additions needed to satisfy Berlin.

“The law that 100% of cars sold after 2035 must be zero emissions will be passed without modification by next Tuesday,” said Pascal Canfin, the French liberal lawmaker leading the assembly file. “Parliament will decide in due course on future Commission proposals on e-fuels.”

Engine endgame

The deal means energy ministers can approve the initial 2035 proposal at a meeting on Tuesday, given that Berlin now has confidence that its demands will be met. In advance, EU ambassadors will discuss the bilateral agreement between Brussels and Berlin on Monday, an EU diplomat said.

The deal caps a decade of German backsliding on EU car emissions regulations.

In 2013, then-Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened belatedly to water down previous versions of car emissions standards legislation, securing essential changes to the country’s massive auto industry.

The deal means Germany has effectively dropped its last-minute opposition to the car engine ban law | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Since the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, most automakers have shifted their investment towards electric vehicles, but some industry interests, including high-end automakers such as Porsche and Germany’s network of engine component manufacturers combustion, have sought to save traditional petrol consumers from the clutches of a de facto EU sales ban.

Finding a final workaround on e-fuels in the 2035 legislation will take another few months, as the technical standards have not yet been clarified to establish a “robust and escape-proof” system for the sale of cars that can only be fueled with synthetic alternatives to gasoline and diesel, according to Samsom’s statement.

The timeline is already clear from the perspective of Berlin. “We want the process to be completed by autumn 2024,” said Germany’s transport ministry, which is led by the country’s Liberal Democratic Party. The FDP, the youngest in Germany’s three-party government coalition, had wanted fixed legal language to secure a loophole for e-fuels, which can theoretically be CO2-neutral but would not normally comply with fuel legislation. emissions since they still do emit exhaust pollutants.

With the FDP’s popularity plummeting, the row over car policy with Brussels has been a popular talking point in German media in recent weeks. A poll reports that 67% of respondents are against motor ban legislation. Ahead of national elections in late 2025, the FDP is betting on driver-friendly policies such as e-fuels, new road building initiatives and blocking the implementation of a national speed limit on highways, to enhance its visibility.

Market watchers do not expect e-fuels to offer a mass 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 one-tenth of domestic demand in the energy sectors. aviation, sea and chemicals by 2035.

“E-fuels are a costly and massively inefficient diversion from the transformation to electric that European carmakers are facing,” said Julia Poliscanova of the green group Transport & Environment.

Automotive Policy

Although not on the official agenda, the issue dominated discussions on the sidelines of this week’s EU leaders’ summit in Brussels. A deal between Brussels and Berlin was not reached until 9 p.m. Friday, hours after leaders left the EU capital, before being officially announced on social media early Saturday.

“The way is clear,” said German Transport Minister Volker Wissing when announcing the deal. “We have secured opportunities for Europe by keeping important options open for climate-neutral and affordable mobility.”

The deal means 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 which had put up a roadblock before the final ratification by ministers of the agreement reached last time. October between the three European institutions.

It remains unclear whether Italy’s attempts to find a separate biofuel workaround – promoted personally by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the summit – were also successful. However, without Berlin’s support, Rome has no means of blocking the legislation.

We'll find a way to save the car's engine - POLITICO
German Transport Minister Volker Wissing | Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Responses to the Commission working on a bespoke solution for its largest member country on otherwise agreed legislation have been generally negative, with many saying the e-fuels issue is a diversion.

“Opening up to e-fuels does not mean a significant change for the transformation to electric cars,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, professor at the Automotive Research Center in Duisburg. He said the Commission’s deals raised “new investment uncertainties” that undermined the bloc’s efforts to catch up with China, the world’s biggest producer of electric vehicles.

Still, most are just happy the row of combustion engines is over, for now.

“It’s a good thing that this stalemate is over,” said German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, who backed the original 2035 deal without referring to electric fuels. politics,” the minister said in a statement.


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