Chancellor Olaf Scholz leaned far out of the window in the dispute over the 2035 combustion ban before the start of the EU summit in Brussels. "There is a clear understanding in Europe – including the idea signed by everyone that there is a regulation" that ensures that after 2035 cars powered exclusively by e-fuels could continue to be registered, he said, adding: "There is already consensus." It is now only "quite pragmatically a matter of finding the right way to implement this promise made by the Commission for a long time".

Hendrik Kafsack

Economic correspondent in Brussels.

  • Follow I follow

The objection from the European Commission was not long in coming. The Commission had never promised a proposal. At a meeting of Member States' ambassadors in November, she issued only one statement on the new limits for CO2 emissions from cars: "Following the final adoption of the Regulation by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the Commission will examine the potential contribution of CO2-neutral fuels to achieving climate-neutral mobility." If Scholz, as well as Transport Minister Volker Wissing, repeatedly claimed otherwise, the Commission would have to correct that, it was said from the authority.

Bad example Germany

Scholz also received headwinds from other sides. The blockade, which was pronounced shortly before the planned final adoption of the Wissing regulation, was a "very, very difficult sign for the future," said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins. "The whole architecture of decision-making would fall apart if we all did that," he said. What will now prevent other states from doing the same as Germany in other projects on which the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers had actually finally agreed? "I think once we've reached an agreement, we should stick to that agreement."

The EU must not be afraid of its own courage now, said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. The majority of states are in favour of reducing CO2 emissions from cars to zero by 2035 – which amounts to a ban on the internal combustion engine. It must stay that way. He will say the same to Scholz at the summit, he announced shortly before the start of the meeting.

Germany, on the other hand, received support from Austria and the Netherlands. "In my view, it is important that we further develop Europe as a research location and development location and do not endanger it," said Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer. "E-fuels and the green combustion engine are the way to achieve this. This has to be pushed now."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said every member state has the right to raise concerns even shortly before the final adoption of new EU rules. He expressed optimism that an agreement is within reach. At the summit itself, the issue was not on the agenda.

Federal Environment Ministry satisfied with compromise proposal

Last Sunday, Climate Protection Commissioner Frans Timmermans presented Wissing with concrete proposals on how the Commission could respond to Germany's concerns. It has offered to present a proposal immediately after the adoption of the regulation on how vehicles can be proven to run on climate-neutral synthetic fuels after 2035.

The regulation on CO2 targets for cars will then be revised later in order to adapt the condition that new cars may no longer emit CO2035 from the exhaust after 2. Because that's what cars powered by climate-neutral e-fuels do.

In the Federal Environment Ministry of Steffi Lemke (Greens), which had always supported the combustion phase-out, this is considered an acceptable way out. Wissing, on the other hand, reacted cautiously. "We need a legally clean solution," he told the "Augsburger Allgemeine" on Thursday.

However, this could still take time. "We are talking about regulation for 2035. I don't understand why we shouldn't be allowed to take the time to look at things now," he stressed.