Politico — 2023-03-23
News from Brussels
The German government is threatening to continue its blockade of EU green legislation unless the European Commission finds a way to allow combustion engine cars running on synthetic e-fuels to be sold post-2035.
In correspondence to the Commission late in the evening of 2023 March 23, seen by POLITICO, Germany’s transport ministry formally rejected the Commission’s latest attempt to compromise in the battle over the future of combustion-engine cars and vans, deepening a row that has overshadowed an ongoing summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
The ministry, run by Volker Wissing from the liberal Free Democratic Party, wants either Commission President Ursula von der Leyen or the EU’s Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans to sign a draft declaration, penned for them by Berlin transport officials, that guarantees Brussels will secure a future for e-fuels before the fall.
The draft declaration would commit the EU executive to working “without delay” on fixing “a technologically neutral climate regulation” that addresses Germany’s concerns that the planned CO2 standards legislation effectively kills off the combustion engine.
As POLITICO reported earlier this week, the EU executive had said it would not reopen the draft legislation requiring all cars and vans sold after 2035 to be CO2 emissions-free — agreed by the European Parliament and EU countries in 2022 — to make room for synthetic so-called e-fuels, as demanded by Berlin.
But it did agree to part of Berlin's request by offering to tweak separate, existing legislation known as Euro 6, which sets out a classification for vehicles running exclusively “carbon neutral fuels” such as e-fuels.
But this alone wouldn’t allow such vehicles to be sold after the emissions standards legislation comes into full force in 2035 — thus Berlin's rejection.
The only way Berlin will lift its roadblock is if Brussels makes the changes requested, according to an e-mail seen by POLITICO from Hartmut Höppner, a state secretary at Wissing’s transport ministry, to Diederik Samsom, the head of Timmermans' Cabinet at the Commission.
Berlin argues that signing its declaration would resolve the dispute without reopening the legislation.
But the draft declaration also includes a clause that says if the “co-legislators” move to block a delegated act used to make the changes — basically, the European Parliament, which has already opposed Germany’s e-fuels pitch — then the Commission would commit to reopening the core CO2 standards rules to make room for e-fuels.
That legislation was agreed in 2022 following around 18 months of negotiations. In addition to the European Parliament, a group of countries led by France has said the EU should stick to the deal and continue with the final rubber-stamp approval. Along with Timmermans, they have categorically ruled out reopening the CO2 legislation.
The spat over engines loomed large on the first day of the EU leaders’ summit, despite not being an official topic on the agenda.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, two EU diplomats said Germany’s offer was unlikely to secure approval.
Von der Leyen said at a press conference at the end of summit talks on 2023 March 23, just hours after the ultimatum from Berlin landed, that discussions on the matter would continue. “Time is of the essence,” she said. “We intensify the talks and I’m confident that we will soon find a good solution.”