June 21. 2024. 5:56

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German minister: E-fuels row ‘did Europe a great service’


Germany and the European Commission have moved closer to a deal on the future of the internal combustion engine, the German transport minister said, raising hopes that EU legislation to rein in carbon emissions from new cars will soon be finalised.

The Commission responded positively to a German proposal to create a new category of vehicles that run exclusively on carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, also known as e-fuels, according to Germany’s transport minister Volker Wissing.

“Yesterday, I made concrete proposals to the EU Commission to ensure that combustion engines can continue to be registered and used after 2035 if they are fuelled exclusively with synthetic fuels,” he said in a statement on Friday (24 March).

“This is a path that has now been answered by the EU Commission with a letter that makes me optimistic,” Wissing said, adding that “final legal questions still need to be clarified regarding the technical implementation of this proposal”.

According to Wissing, the deal would not reopen the file on CO2 standards for cars and vans, a redline for many in the European Parliament who had previously agreed to the deal.

“We do not question the goals of only allowing climate-neutral vehicles from 2035 onwards. We have never done so,” he said.

However, in addition to the CO2 standards regulation, Germany is seeking a more substantiated legal framework as to how e-fuel vehicles can be sold, with the Commission required to formally set out the legislative approach to safeguard e-fuel-only cars post-2035.

“We need a special category of vehicles that have an internal combustion engine but run exclusively on synthetic fuels,” Wissing said.

New category for vehicles

“We need to make certain approval regulations, for example, to ensure that other fuels cannot be used thanks to sensor technology,” Wissing said, adding that “then, we also need the integration of this vehicle category into the current and future regime.”

The statement marks a departure from the German transport minister’s earlier, more far-reaching demand.

As DER SPIEGEL reported, Wissing’s ministry last week proposed that instead of creating a new category of vehicles for e-fuel-only cars, it should be sufficient if manufacturers bring into the market equal amounts of such fuels – no matter in which car they land eventually.

However, senior politicians from Wissing’s pro-market FDP party denied that such a large-scale attempt to change the regulation had happened.

“We would not question the emission standards for fleets and the regulation of them,” Lukas Köhler, deputy head of FDP’s group in the German parliament, said at an online event on Thursday (23 March).

“This has to happen outside the fleet standards,” he said, adding that “this means the fleet standards do not have to be opened up again”.

Köhler is “very confident” that engineers would find a solution to differentiate between fossil fuels and e-fuels at the pump station, adding that similar differentiations are already made between diesel and heating oil as well as agricultural fuels.

Insisting on technology openness a ‘service for Europe’

Despite the Council initially indicating its acceptance in November of the decision to phase out the sale of combustion engine cars from 2035, a last-minute intervention by Germany saw a formal vote to sign off on the agreement postponed.

Germany was joined in its opposition by other countries, notably Italy, Poland, and Bulgaria, reaching the required blocking minority of four member states. Others, such as Slovakia and Czechia, also belatedly changed their stance on the phase-out.

While the combustion engine phase-out was not an official topic on the agenda of the two-day European Council summit, it overshadowed proceedings, with bilateral meetings scheduled to help resolve the impasse.

Asked by journalists about the issue at a press conference at the EU summit on Friday, Germany’s chancellor Scholz said: “I know that journalism is partly in the entertainment business, and you don’t like to see us agree. But we will find an agreement.”

Despite criticism of Germany’s intervention in a deal that seemed all but certain, the German transport minister insisted that by pushing for the option of e-fuelled combustion engines to be left open, “we have done Europe a great service”.

‘Chaos’

The European Parliament’s centre-right EPP group was strident in their criticism of the German government’s handling of the combustion engine phase-out, saying that Wissing “has been creating chaos for three weeks now and has not made an inch of progress”.

“From the beginning, Wissing seems to have been concerned only with a show for the public. All this has little to do with serious politics,” said the EPP’s Jens Gieseke, a member of the German opposition party CDU.

Rather than relying on legislative additions, the EPP wants the file to be reopened and discussed from the bottom up.

“If Wissing really wants to save the combustion engine, we have to renegotiate the law again,” said Gieseke.

However, the EPP opinion is not shared by the majority of lawmakers. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola recently sent a letter to the European Commission warning against reopening the file.

Terry Reintke, another German lawmaker and co-president of the Greens group, told EURACTIV that “the standstill must be ended as quickly as possible”.

“What is at stake is Germany’s reliability vis-à-vis its European partners. FDP has to end their blockade now,” she said.