Environment: hanging game about the combustion engine off - EU vote postponed

The EU decision on the planned end for cars with combustion engines from 2035 is becoming a stalemate.

Environment: hanging game about the combustion engine off - EU vote postponed

The EU decision on the planned end for cars with combustion engines from 2035 is becoming a stalemate. Against the background of additional demands from Germany, a final vote was postponed indefinitely, as a spokesman for the responsible Swedish EU Council Presidency announced in Brussels.

Shortly before, Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said in Berlin that Germany cannot agree to the planned blanket phasing out of combustion engines from 2035 at the present time.

Wissing reiterated the demand that the EU Commission must submit a proposal on how "climate-neutral" synthetic fuels can be used in combustion engines after 2035. The Brussels authority must fulfill a corresponding commitment.

Italy, Poland and Bulgaria also do not want to agree to the plans

Without Germany's approval, the vote originally planned for Tuesday could have failed. Passing the law requires the approval of 15 out of 27 member states, which together must make up at least 65 percent of the total population of the EU. In addition to Germany, countries such as Italy, Poland and Bulgaria recently did not want to agree to the plans. The 65 percent hurdle would then not be reached without Germany.

A spokeswoman for the EU Commission said on Friday that they would now take another close look at what was being asked of them. According to diplomats, the authority has so far taken the position that it cannot propose any exemptions for normal cars with combustion engines under the currently planned legal text. This could therefore only exist for special vehicles such as fire engines.

Actually, negotiators from the European Parliament and the EU states had already agreed in October that from 2035 only new cars may be sold in the EU that do not emit any greenhouse gases during operation. The pending vote of the EU states is the very last step in the legislative process and is actually a formality.

"Conflict" with the EU Commission

However, Wissing had already announced opposition to the project at the beginning of the week. He justified this by saying that the EU Commission has not yet submitted a proposal on how only vehicles fueled with climate-neutral fuels such as e-fuels can be approved after 2035. This was part of the agreement in the Council of EU States in June 2022, with which the FDP could be persuaded to agree within the federal government.

Wissing reported on a conversation with the responsible Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. "The result of the conversation was that Mr. Timmermans saw no prospect of fulfilling the EU Commission's promise within the short time available." Wissing added: "Of course, it has not escaped our attention that the EU Commission has stated that there is only limited interest in making a corresponding proposal." In the Bundestag, Wissing spoke of a "conflict" with the EU Commission.

On Sunday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to attend a federal cabinet retreat at Schloss Meseberg, the federal government's guest house in Brandenburg. There could also be talks about the combustion engine off. The official topic of von der Leyen's visit is the economic perspectives of Germany and Europe.

With regard to Wissing, the Federal Environment Ministry headed by Steffi Lemke (Greens) had said that the EU member states had already voted with an overwhelming majority in June that only cars and light commercial vehicles that emit no CO2 would be registered from 2035: "Germany is also a European responsibility here." The car companies need planning security: "Many car companies want to achieve the conversion to e-mobility much earlier than 2035."

German MEPs were even more critical. "Today's postponement of the vote on the end of combustion engines is a disgrace for Germany, in front of the EU and globally. We create chaos, make ourselves completely unbelievable and are becoming a brake on climate protection," commented Green politician Michael Bloss. The traffic policy spokesman for the CDU/CSU group said: "The federal government is presenting itself in Brussels as a troop of chaos." He supports Wissing's course, but one may have doubts as to whether he can make his position within the federal government capable of winning a majority.

The FDP has long been calling for the use of e-fuels and openness to technology and emphasizes that you shouldn’t just rely on electric cars. "We need synthetic fuels for the existing fleet," said Wissing.

E-fuels are artificially produced fuels. Technically, hydrogen is usually produced from water using electricity. Combined with carbon dioxide, the fuel - depending on the type of chemical compound - can have the properties of diesel, petrol or kerosene. However, e-fuels are controversial because of the high losses in efficiency and the costs involved in manufacturing them.

Audi boss Markus Duesmann warned against turning away from the planned end of combustion engines for cars. He told the "Spiegel" that synthetic fuels would not play a major role in the car segment in the medium term. "Audi has made a clear decision: We will phase out the combustion engine in 2033 because the battery-electric vehicle is the most efficient method for individual mobility." E-fuels are significantly less efficient to produce and therefore significantly more expensive. Greenpeace traffic expert Benjamin Stephan spoke of an "attempted blackmail" by Wissing. As a result, key advances in European climate protection are in danger.