June 20. 2024. 12:28

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Germany’s FDP accused of ‘blackmail’ in EU combustion engine row

Germany’s last-minute decision to revoke its support for a law that would see the sale of new combustion engines banned from 2035 sets a dangerous precedent for European politics, according to the chair of the European Parliament’s influential environment committee.

Pascal Canfin, a French lawmaker from the centrist Renew group in Parliament, expressed his annoyance with the path taken by the German government, which has threatened to abstain on a vote to finalise the CO2 emissions for cars and vans file despite previously indicating it would support the deal.

“This is the first time that a member state, after having given its agreement to COREPER, goes back on its word when formalising this agreement,” said Canfin, referencing Germany’s positive vote at a meeting of EU ambassadors in November.

Germany’s abrupt change came just days before a formal vote among member states was due to take place, the final step in an almost two-year-long journey.

“This is something that is unacceptable in terms of European mindset. Imagine that each European state proceeds in this way – there would never be any more agreement possible at the European level,” Canfin told journalists on Monday (6 March).

If Germany, the EU’s most populous member state, does not back the law, it will need to be renegotiated or scrapped.

Italy and Poland have additionally indicated that they will vote against the law, with Bulgaria abstaining. Recent reports suggest that Czechia will also vote to abstain.

Under voting rules in the Council of the EU, four member states are needed to form a blocking minority – a threshold that has been met.

Will efforts to ban the combustion engine fall at the final hurdle?

With the news that Germany may abstain from a vote on ending the production of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, the fate of the long-negotiated law on CO2 standards for cars and vans is now uncertain.

The role of e-fuels

The reason for Germany’s abstention threat is concern that e-fuels – electricity-based fuels that are carbon neutral if made with CO2 extracted from the atmosphere – will not be considered as a means to reach Europe’s fleet targets.

The liberal FDP party, a member of Germany’s three-party governing coalition, has championed e-fuels as a complementary technology to battery-electric vehicles. E-fuels can be burned in combustion engines, and are seen as a way to theoretically decarbonise the technology.

The final text of the law includes a recital clause requesting the European Commission to prepare a report on how cars running on e-fuels could be registered for sale after the 2035 cut-off date.

However, recital clauses are not binding, meaning the Commission is not legally obliged to do so.

German Transport Minister Volker Wissing said he will not back the law until the European Commission provides a guarantee that it will come forward with a proposal on the use of e-fuels as a carbon-neutral solution for combustion engines.

Canfin told reporters that in his opinion, he doesn’t see why “we should accept what is more of a blackmail than anything else”.

“The FDP’s request goes beyond the signed text, beyond all European practices, and beyond the German coalition contract,” he said.

“It is the very spirit of European construction that is in danger through this incomprehensible position of the FDP,” Canfin added.

Although the FDP is a member of the European Parliament’s Renew faction, Canfin said its views do not represent the group’s position on the regulation, which received broad support internally.

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 if they run exclusively on e-fuels.

Broken promise

The French MEP said the danger of giving in to the FDP’s request “would mean that the German word no longer has any value” because the recital on e-fuels was added at the request of Germany and the FDP.

“If a country can go back on its word and block a text because of an element of its coalition, then what will France, Italy, or Spain do on other subjects for which there has been compromise?” he said.

Canfin called on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to step in and save the legislative file, warning that failure to do so would tarnish his legacy.

“I hope that the German chancellor will take responsibility and not be the one who will go down in history as the chancellor who unravelled the Green Deal,” he said.

However, in comments made during an annual retreat of the German government on Monday (6 March), Scholz voiced support for his transport minister.

“We are in agreement on this issue,” Scholz told journalists.

Scholz backs transport minister in attempt to save combustion engine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has voiced his support for liberal Transport Minister Volker Wissing’s threat to block the final vote on the EU’s de facto ban on new petrol or diesel cars as of 2035.

Charting a path forward

While arguing that Europe should not be beholden to the demands of the FDP, Canfin said the European Commission could provide details of when it would enact the recital clause – a move that could possibly end the stalemate with Germany.

“If [EU climate chief] Frans Timmermans agrees to give a precise date, which materialises the recital by the end of the year at the latest, there is no problem there. Because the Commission has a mandate to do so and it is part of the deal that we ourselves accepted in the European Parliament,” he said.

As of the time of writing, the Commission has not provided such a guarantee to Germany, but it is understood that internal discussions are ongoing.

Anger at Germany as vote to finalise combustion engine ban is delayed

EU diplomats reacted with surprise and annoyance to Germany’s last-minute refusal to back a ban on the sale of new combustion engine cars by 2035, which has led to a postponement of the vote to approve the law.