The federal government and the EU Commission settle disputes over combustion engines

combustion engine

The exhaust of a car with a diesel engine. Cars with e-fuels may continue to drive after 2035.

(Photo: dpa)

Berlin/Brussels After weeks of wrangling about the future of cars with internal combustion engines, the German government has reached a compromise with the EU Commission. According to this, new cars with such a drive can be registered in the EU after 2035 if they are refueled with climate-neutral fuel. “In this way, we are opening up important options for the population towards climate-neutral and affordable mobility,” said Transport Minister Volker Wissing in Berlin on Saturday. The auto industry welcomed the agreement, while climate protectors and economists spoke of a “rotten compromise”.

The European Parliament and EU states had actually already agreed in October that only emission-free new cars may be registered in the EU from 2035. However, Germany insisted that in principle all cars with combustion engines that are operated with so-called e-fuels should be included. These are fuels that are produced from water and carbon dioxide using green electricity.

A confirmation of the agreement by the EU states, which was planned for early March, was initially prevented by Germany. Since then, the EU Commission and the federal government have been negotiating a compromise.

According to the solution that has now been found, all cars powered by e-fuels should in principle be allowed to be registered. According to Wissing, specific procedural steps and a timetable have been fixed for implementation. “We want the process to be completed by fall 2024,” he said.

The final vote of all 27 EU countries should now take place next Tuesday. In addition to Germany, other countries such as Italy, Austria and Poland were originally critical of the project. With German approval, however, it is very likely that the necessary majority will be achieved.

Lindner wants motor vehicle tax reform

Federal Minister of Finance Christian Lindner now also wants to reform the taxation of motor vehicles. Cars that are fueled with e-fuels should in future be taxed less than vehicles currently powered by petrol or diesel, he told the German Press Agency. “If the fuel is climate-friendly, then the taxation of the vehicle tax to the energy tax must be adjusted.” The Ministry of Finance will present a concept for this.

“It will be a while before we see such vehicles on the road and have e-fuels in the tank,” said Lindner. “But for people and the economy it will be an important planning factor that e-fuels are taxed more cheaply than fossil fuels.”

Economics Veronika Grimm criticized the combustion engine compromise. “You shouldn’t have opposed here, that mainly lost trust in Europe,” said the energy economist to the Handelsblatt. In addition, the hope of consumers and corporations that the combustion engine is not dead could still blossom in the end. “People could continue to buy combustion engines in the hope of cheap e-fuels,” she explained. “That could make it very difficult for politicians to pursue consistent climate policy.”

Transport Minister Volker Wissing

The EU and the federal government have agreed on an internal combustion engine off. Germany is accused of breach of trust.

(Photo: IMAGO/Chris Emil Janssen)

Whether cars powered by e-fuels actually have a chance in practice is still an open question. With a view to the planned approval of so-called “green combustion engines” after 2035, Grimm pointed out the complex and expensive production of synthetic fuels based on hydrogen. “Scenarios in which e-fuels represent a cheap alternative for mobility are hardly imaginable in 2035, even if one looks optimistically at the price developments for hydrogen,” said the scientist.

“We need a massive ramp-up of hydrogen and energy sources based on it anyway, which is not yet anywhere near in sight,” Grimm continued. The climate-friendly hydrogen will then be needed “in large quantities” in industry, in heavy mobility, shipping and in the electricity sector. “There will hardly be an attractive option for the car, not in terms of price and the quantity scenarios shouldn’t give that either,” emphasized the economist.

Car expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer cites the high cost of producing the fuel and the “horrible energy balance” as arguments against such drives – an extremely large amount of electricity is consumed during production.

Dudenhöfer counts among the negative effects of the regulations that they could lead to uncertainty in the industry when converting to electric motors. “The Chinese and Americans will increase the gap to European industry in electric cars as a result of the new investment uncertainties,” he says.

The President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, Hildegard Müller, reacted positively to the compromise. E-mobility remains the central technology for achieving the climate goals in transport. However, e-fuels are an important extension.

Sharp criticism from Greenpeace and environmental organizations

Greenpeace, on the other hand, came in for sharp criticism. “This rotten compromise undermines climate protection in transport and it harms Europe,” said the environmental organization’s mobility expert, Benjamin Stephan, in Berlin. The “urgently needed focus of the automotive industry on efficient electromobility” will be watered down with the agreement. Stephan accused Chancellor Olaf Scholz of not having stopped the FDP’s “ruthless blackmailing of the EU”.

Germany’s unusual blockade maneuver in the EU is mainly due to the FDP Ministers Wissing and Christian Lindner. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) allowed the two to do so for the sake of the coalition peace.

The Greens reacted with relief on Saturday that a compromise had finally been found. “It’s good that this impasse is over,” said Environment Minister Steffi Lemke. “Anything else would have severely damaged both trust in the European procedures and in Germany’s reliability in European politics.”

However, it is feared that in the future other EU members could follow Germany’s example and unravel solutions that have already been found in disputes. In this respect, it is not yet foreseeable what long-term damage the dispute has caused in the European Union.

More: Germany is jeopardizing the most important climate protection package in the world

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