February 21. 2024. 6:32

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Germany vows to abstain on car CO2 limits vote without e-fuel commitment

German Transport Minister Volker Wissing said his country would not formally back a negotiated agreement to end CO2 emissions from new cars and vans by 2035 unless a proposal on the use of e-fuels is put forward by the European Commission.

After the Italian government, statements by the German transport minister call into doubt the trilogue agreement on CO2 limits for cars and vans, which was adopted in the European Parliament two weeks ago.

Germany could only back the agreement “if the Commission makes a proposal” on how vehicles with internal combustion engines running only on synthetic fuels can be registered even after 2035, Wissing (FDP/Renew Europe) told journalists on Tuesday (28 February).

“The European Commission must deliver to enable a registration of combustion engine vehicles even after 2035,” he said. “We need all options,” including battery-electric, hydrogen and combustion engines running on e-fuels, he added.

Similar statements were also made by Michael Theurer, state secretary in his ministry, outside an informal meeting of EU energy and transport ministers.

“We are asking for another legislation, the Commission should come forward with a proposal on how e-fuels can be used, or how combustion engines which run with climate-neutral e-fuels can be organised,” he told journalists on Monday (27 February) morning.

The file, which has already been adopted by national EU ambassadors, still needs a final sign-off by national ministers, which, according to a preliminary agenda, is to be done by education ministers on 7 March (without any discussion).

Without the German “yes”, the adoption of the file is on the brink, according to German Green MEP Michael Bloss, as “Poland and Bulgaria do not want the end of the combustion engine, and Italy also wants to abstain”.

“A qualified majority would thus be prevented, and the combustion engine phase-out rejected,” Bloss tweeted.

Asked what he expects from the European Commission before the scheduled vote so that Germany could support the deal, Wissing said that “we need a binding answer to the question of how to deal with internal combustion engines”.

Previous statements by the country’s Environment Ministry said that Germany’s approval of the deal was “final”, as the so-called traffic light coalition of social democrats, Greens and liberal FDP reached an internal agreement already in November 2022 after the trilogue was concluded.

After pressure from the FDP, the legislative file includes a non-binding recital which asks the Commission to come forward with a new proposal to allow combustion engine vehicles, even after 2035, if they run “exclusively on CO2 neutral fuels”, “outside the scope of the fleet standards”, which made FDP agree to the deal.

So far, however, the Commission has shown little interest in doing so. This might, however, change if the next European elections see a political shift to the right.

This recital clause doesn’t seem to be a sufficient assurance for the FDP anymore, with Wissing pushing for the Commission to give a more substantive commitment to combustion engines running on e-fuels.

Wissing also said he “made [EU climate chief Frans] Timmermans an offer for a conversation, which he didn’t accept”. He added that his position should not surprise the European Commission, as Germany has been pressing for such an exemption for months.

For her part, EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said yesterday (27 February) that many in the transport sector shared Germany’s concerns. “I think the discussion is not closed, even though the vote was taken,” she told reporters.

Will car-producing nations hit the brakes on EU emissions rules?

Major car-producing nations are proving increasingly reluctant to accept Brussels’ legislative proposals to rein in emissions from road transport, worried about the economic toll on car producers and consumers alike.

Three major pieces of legislation to reduce tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, and buses have been put forward by the European Commission since 2021.

A proposal on tightening CO2 emission standards for cars and vans will force car makers to adhere to progressively stricter carbon emission limits, leading to a de facto ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2035.

Following much debate, the law has been essentially accepted, with only the formality of EU ministers giving their final approval yet to take place (a vote which could prove more explosive than expected).

EU legislators also proposed tightening the accepted pollution level from cars and trucks, unveiling the so-called “Euro 7” rules in November 2022.

Under these rules, the level of harmful air pollutants emitted, such as NOx, particulate matter, and particles from brakes, would be progressively reduced.

And in February 2022, EU green deal chief Frans Timmermans put forward a proposal to rein in CO2 from heavy-duty vehicles and buses. Unlike for cars and vans, the Commission proposed a 90% reduction target by 2040, meaning some combustion engine trucks and coaches would be permitted.

Collectively, these proposals represent arguably the most significant push by any continent to reduce the environmental impact of the road transport sector. If each legislation was enacted as the Commission proposed, CO2 and air pollutants would fall precipitously in the next decade.

However, there is increasing concern at the national level that the Commission has gone too far in foisting ever-stricter rules on Europe’s lucrative vehicle sector. And national governments are not shy about voicing their displeasure publically.

Italy’s Matteo Salvini branded EU rules to end petrol and diesel vehicles “suicide” and called it a “gift” to China.

In addition to questioning CO2 standards for cars and vans, the country, headed by the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), wants to alter the draft rules on vehicle pollution standards and truck and bus carbon emissions.

Industry minister Adolfo Urso expressed his desire to create an alliance with France and Germany (“the three great European industrial countries”, as he put it) to “influence” the legislation.

This means changing the timeline and presumably watering down some of the limits put forward by Brussels.

“They are two important dossiers which must be tackled realistically, giving citizens and businesses a real chance to adapt in good time,” he said.

Italy is far from the only country with reservations. Czechia, home to car brand Škoda, is creating a coalition to fight against what they see as unreasonably strict rules.

Czechia invited 10 countries to attend a meeting, including France, Germany, Slovakia, Poland, and Italy, to discuss opposing the draft Euro 7 rules.

According to reports, attendees at the meeting agreed that the Commission’s timeline of 1 July 2025 for new pollution limits is unrealistic.

While not outright against efforts to cut emissions, it seems that the practicalities involved in forcing the car industry to adapt are proving too much for some leaders.

And so we see the lofty ideals of environmental protection crash awkwardly into the reality of European industrial production.

Road deaths below pre-pandemic levels, but danger remains for cyclists

The EU released preliminary figures on road deaths in Europe last week, showing that 20,600 people died in road crashes in 2022.

This represents a 3% increase compared to 2021, attributed to recovering traffic levels following the pandemic. However, it remains 10% below 2019 levels, with 2,000 fewer deaths.

While great strides in safety have been made in some countries, notably Lithuania and Poland, which each saw a 30% improvement, the level of fatalities in others, such as Ireland, Spain, and France, have remained stagnant or increased.

The safest roads in Europe are in Sweden and Denmark, with 21 and 26 deaths per million inhabitants, respectively. The least safe are in Romania and Bulgaria, which saw 86 deaths and 78 deaths per million inhabitants each.

When it comes to cities, collisions between vehicles account for fewer deaths than vehicles crashing into vulnerable road users. Pedestrians and cyclists accounted for just under 70% of those killed in road accidents in urban areas.

The news is particularly bad for those on two wheels. The number of cyclists killed on EU roads has not fallen over the last decade, which, according to the EU, is “notably due to a persistent lack of well-equipped infrastructure”.

A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Germany to abstain on combustion engine ban without e-fuel proposal

Germany will abstain in the final vote on the EU’s de-facto ban on new petrol or diesel cars as of 2035 unless the EU Commission proposes how new combustion engine cars can be registered even after that date if they run exclusively on e-fuels.

Rail giants clash with ticketing platforms ahead of new EU travel law

As the EU prepares to table legislation to make it simpler to book long-distance journeys across the bloc, a fierce debate has broken out between rail companies and independent booking platforms over the provision of data.

Italy seeks alliance with France and Germany to tame EU car emissions laws

Italy wants to team up with France and Germany to “influence” and slow the pace of European Union laws on cutting car and truck emissions, Industry Minister Adolfo Urso said on Saturday (25 February).

Germany asks EU for wiggle room on combustion engine phaseout

Germany has asked the European Union to propose rules allowing combustion-engine cars that run on CO2-neutral fuels to be sold in Europe after 2035, the date by which the EU has agreed all new cars should have zero emissions.

Wizz Air to suspend Moldova flights, citing security

Airline Wizz Air said on Monday (26 February) it would suspend flights to the Moldovan capital Chisinau from 14 March due to concerns about the safety of its airspace, a decision Moldova’s civil aviation authority described as sudden and regrettable.

Czechia forms country coalition against Euro 7 proposal

The Czech government organised a meeting of countries which could jointly fight against the new car emission standards, which according to the country, is unreasonably strict and poses a danger to the European car industry, Hospodářské noviny reported.