A survey from RTL/N-TV is throwing more oil on the fire in Germany, as the country is currently obstructing the final vote on the de facto ban for combustion engines as of 2035. With only 14% in favor, national enthusiasm for the European deal is low.
The probe unveiled that 68% of the German population favors maintaining combustion engines. The remaining 12% would only vote ‘yes’ in the case of an exception ruling.
The reasons behind the strong opposition are obvious. With 850 000 people working in the automotive industry, the sector has a strong foothold. As the electrification programs of carmakers will cost jobs, local politicians are under a lot of pressure. Furthermore, the ban is also regarded as a red carpet for Chinese manufacturers with a headstart in battery development and pricing.
A grey zone
Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz has meddled with the issue personally and claimed that his country is awaiting a proposal by the EU on how the role of combustion engines running on alternative fuels will be dealt with after 2035.
To be clear, the EU doesn’t ban combustion engines as a technology but demands that sales of cars will be zero-emission as of 2035. Combustion engines running on hydrogen still emit a tiny amount of CO2, while electric fuels, made with the help of abated carbon dioxide, compensate by production. A grey zone. And a contested one.
The EU agreement on the 2035 ban was already rubberstamped by Parliament last month. But only conditionally. Germany firmly demanded a loophole for electric fuels. EU commissioner Frans Timmermans, and official bodies like the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), who treated this gift as some small candy to keep the country complacent, are now confronted with a block that could jeopardize the adoption of the much-coveted deal under its current form.
Joined by Italy
For the agreement to pass, the EU must reach a qualified majority of 55% of the member states, representing 65% of the population. But as Germany is joined in the pushback by Italy, Hungary, and Poland, that quotum would not be reached without the country’s approval.
This would send the law back to the drawing board. Member states were supposed to vote last Tuesday. Germany’s demands for a clear statement on alternative fuels have suspended the round to an undetermined date.
As the Green Party is a coalition partner in the German government, the German opposition is also causing friction internally. The Minister for Economics and Climate is Robert Habeck from the Green Party, who already stated that his country plants itself as an unreliable partner within the EU by obstructing the deal.
Phase-out of ICE
Most German carmakers have already officially communicated an end to their combustion engines. But their attitudes differ. Audi boss Markus Duesman warned about the negative effects of obstructing the European deal. His brand will stop manufacturing combustion engines as of 2035 (a deadline more or less followed by sister brand Volkswagen).
Mercedes plans to do so three years earlier, but “only where market conditions allow”. The carmaker from Stuttgart is prepared for any scenario under that disclaimer.
BMW hasn’t committed to a phase-out date, as it upholds a multi-tech strategy for decarbonization. Sources within the carmaker have told the German newspaper Handelsblatt that the company is upgrading its existing range of combustion engines, including diesel, and takes the installment of those into account for developing a new platform.
In an official reaction, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said that, in principle, there was openness to new car technologies, “but this must also always be in balance with our climate policy goals”. She added that the ongoing dialogue between Germany and the Commission was “constructive”.
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