Germany blocks EU decision about banning ICE cars

After Poland and Italy, a third EU member state, Germany, rejected the EU’s Parliament’s decision to ban ICE cars by 2035. Inside the German government, there is a serious disagreement between the liberal FDP party and the Green party, both members of the government coalition.

The German Digital and Transport Minister Volker Wissing has blocked Germany’s consent if ICE cars burning e-fuels are not getting sales approval after 2035.

He insists that all technical solutions leading to a better climate must be considered. “We need e-fuels. There’s no real alternative to come to a climate-neutral car park otherwise,” he said.

15 countries, representing 65%

Wissing demands that the European Commission comes up with a proposal on e-fuels. According to him, this was the primary condition for the member states to approve the banning proposal last June. That was also the reason his liberal party was supporting the deal.

Without German consent, there is a problem with European approval. The compromise voted by the EU Parliament recently has to be approved by at least 15 member states representing at least 65% of the European population.

On Monday, the transport ministers of some eight EU members came together at the initiative of their Czech colleague to support Wissing’s remarks and proposals on e-fuels. Apart from Czechia and Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Slovakia were also present.

Germans disagree

The synthetic fuels Wissing is interested in are produced by combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide, which can be captured from the atmosphere.

These fuels are only considered climate-neutral if the power needed to produce them and their components is generated from renewable sources. How beneficial or feasible the large-scale deployment of synthetic fuels would be is contested.

Supporters see them as a climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels. However, critics say synthetic fuels should only be used for unavoidable air and sea traffic. At the same time, their use in many vehicles would be a waste of green energy and far more costly than electric propulsion.

Political analysts remark that Volker Wissing is also making his point on this because, in polls, his FDP is getting crushed between its two larger coalition partners, the socialist and the green party. So Wissing now wants an item he can set his party back on the agenda with by defending the all-important German car industry.

Unexpected headwind

Unfortunately for him, Wissing is also getting flak from the people he’s supposed to defend. Last Friday, Audi boss Markus Duesmann warned of a reverse or significant change in the EU decision last Friday, talking to the news magazine Der Spiegel. “We see that the clear EU decision about banning ICE cars by 2035 is now questioned again. This hesitating can be fatal for the car industry.”

Duesmann says that for cars, synthetic fuels won’t play a major role. “Audi made a clear decision, by 2033, we get out of the ICE business. BEVs are the most efficient method for individual mobility. E-fuels are more inefficient to produce and more expensive. They have to be used in other mobility forms where storing energy is an issue, like airplanes. So for cars, e-fuels can only be useful for existing ICE cars.”

The Audi CEO sees himself as a ‘black-green’ guy. “We will have to solve the world’s problems through technology,” he says. “Technology that will lead us away from fossil fuels. The Ukrainian war is not a reason to change the energy transition. On the contrary, the change toward e-mobility and green technologies will also make Europe more independent from oil, gas, and coal coming from Russia. This war shows how important it is to get free from fossil fuels. It’s not only about climate and environment anymore, political stability, and peace-keeping.”

Disagreement inside the VW Group

On the contrary, Oliver Blume, the recently assigned CEO of the VW Group and still heading Porsche, has saluted the moves of Volker Wissing. Porsche has already been pushing the use of e-fuels and wants them included in the new EU regulations. “We think e-fuels can play a helpful role for many existing ICE cars and certain high-luxury niche markets,” he declared at a press conference where Porsche talked about its financial performances for 2022.

Clear decisions asked urgently

The French Economy Minister, Bruno Le Maire, has reacted unfavorably to the initiatives of his German colleague. “We are lagging five to ten years behind China in e-cars; investments must be made to catch up,” he told France Info radio on Monday.

Le Maire said he could not tell the major carmakers in France that they must switch to e-mobility and then explain that they are still holding on to combustion technology for a bit. “Economically, that’s contradictory; industrially, that’s dangerous, that’s not in our national interest, that’s not in the interest of our national manufacturers, and, above all, it’s not in the planet’s interest,” Le Maire said.

In the industry, a growing number of voices are asking for clear decisions as quickly as possible. “The car industry urgently needs planning certainty for electromobility so that it can gear its investments to it,” the chairwoman of the German Council of Economic Experts, Monika Schnitzer, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. “A clear announcement from the EU will help,” she added.

The EU plans to reduce climate-damaging CO2 emissions from new vans and cars by 100% by 2035 – meaning a de-facto sales ban – are part of a larger package to tackle climate change. The EU wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and achieve climate neutrality in 2050.

 

 

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