There are different views on the blockade of the combustion engine by the FDP in Brussels. None is flattering for liberals. Some are foaming: they accuse Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing of undermining the credibility of EU legislation with the intervention "five past twelve" and of playing into the hands of anti-democrats like the Hungarian Viktor Orbán.
The accusation is justified. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, including Germany, reached a compromise on the end of combustion engines in the autumn. The final vote now prevented by the FDP is actually a formality. If this no longer applies, the already complex EU legislation will become almost impossible. But it is not without precedent. In 2013, Chancellor Angela Merkel drew resentment because she, too, prevented a last-minute vote by calling the then Council President. It was about a compromise on CO₂ limits for cars.
The others accuse the FDP of merely wanting to distinguish itself after losing the state election in Berlin. "Let them let off steam," they say almost mockingly. In a few weeks, the "next sow" will be driven through the Berlin village. Then there will be a compromise formula, and the ban on combustion engines will still be adopted.
In fact, it is difficult to take the FDP seriously. The end for the combustion engine has not fallen from the sky. However, the FDP has left the legislative process to the Green Ministry of the Environment alone for too long. It was only when the EU environment ministers voted for the first time last June that the FDP woke up to present itself as the saviour of the combustion engine. But then she was satisfied with waxy concessions.
This is annoying, because the FDP is right. It is a mistake to focus one-sidedly on e-mobility instead of looking for technology-neutral solutions. This does not only apply to combustion engines: EU climate policy fundamentally suffers from the fact that it follows too much the dogma of electrification. Green electricity is the only way to solve climate problems. Only when every car, every heating system, every factory is powered by green electricity, the green soul has rest. Only where this is impossible, in air traffic or in individual industrial plants, should CO₂-neutral synthetic fuels (e-fuels) or green hydrogen be permitted. However, the supporters of this dogma, which is widespread in the European Commission, EU member states and the European Parliament, make the mistake of confusing path and goal.
Climate protection, not electrification
The goal is climate protection, not electrification. In order to achieve climate protection, the EU has the ideal technology-neutral instrument in emissions trading. It ensures that CO₂ emissions are subject to a steadily rising price. This creates an incentive for factory operators and car drivers to avoid CO₂. Whether the latter does this by driving an electric car, filling up with climate-neutral e-fuels or dispensing with the car is up to him. The additional benefits that the combustion ban will bring in 2035 are minimal – and emissions must fall to zero by 2050 anyway.
The conversion of green electricity into synthetic fuels is inefficient, criticize the supporters of the electricity dogma. "Filling up with e-fuels is like showering with champagne," says Green MEP Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg. Technically, it is true that the conversion has so far cost a lot of energy. However, innovation could make the process more efficient.
E-fuels also have the advantage that they can be imported from countries such as Chile independently of the pipeline – also to supply the stock of combustion engines, millions of which will continue to roll on the roads of the EU. Regardless of this, climate policy is not distribution policy. If you want to afford to shower with champagne and refuel your Porsche with e-fuels, you should do so. Most people are more likely to buy electric cars anyway.
Ultimately, however, these are rearguard battles. The FDP will no longer completely overturn the ban on combustion engines, there is no majority at EU level. It should therefore concentrate on preventing worse elsewhere. Also in the debate about the future technology hydrogen, the supporters of the electricity dogma are trying to slow down the production of green hydrogen, because they do not want to give up green electricity for it. Here it is still worth arguing – and if in the end it is only a matter of at least enforcing "red hydrogen" from nuclear power as an alternative energy source.