Agreement expected in the e-fuels dispute: Wissing’s Pyrrhic victory at the expense of Europe

After great anger became clear among many European partners about Germany’s attitude at the EU summit, the Federal Ministry of Transport apparently gave in in the dispute with the EU Commission over the end of combustion engines. On Thursday evening, State Secretary Hartmut Höppner sent the EU Commission an email with a new compromise proposal, which was confirmed to the Tagesspiegel by ministry circles.

According to a report by “Spiegel”, the House of Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) is no longer demanding that the EU Commission create an exemption for e-fuels before the EU Council is expected to finalize the end of cars on Tuesday internal combustion engines.

Instead, Wissing should now be content with a declaration that the EU Commission will present a so-called delegated legal act by autumn 2023, according to which combustion engines that are fired exclusively with e-fuels may continue to be sold after 2035.

The end of combustion engines could therefore be decided by the European Council, as negotiated in the trilogue procedure between the European Parliament and the member states. The planned law on the CO2 fleet limits had already included the mandate to the EU Commission to examine an exception for combustion engines operated with e-fuels, but only as a legally non-binding consideration.

With his threat of veto shortly before the final vote, Wissing had now achieved that the EU Commission committed itself to the binding procedure with a delegated legal act.

Our proposal to the EU Commission is the end of the combustion engine.

Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP)

The FDP politician was confident on Friday morning. They consulted closely with the EU Commission and, after careful examination, submitted a constructive proposal for a solution. “We assume that this not only satisfactorily answers all content-related, but also legal questions.”

Wissing added: “There should be nothing standing in the way of the approval of newly registered vehicles with combustion engines that are fueled exclusively with synthetic fuels even after 2035.” It is now expected that the EU Commission will issue a corresponding declaration, with a clear timeframe Name targets and set the process for corresponding legal acts in motion. Wissing became clearer on Twitter: “Our proposal to the EU Commission is the end of the combustion engine.”

Will the EU Parliament overturn the agreement?

But even if the EU Commission agrees to Wissing’s concept, that does not mean that from 2035 onwards, combustion engines that are only operated with alternative fuels may continue to be sold. Because a corresponding delegated legal act by the EU Commission could be stopped by the EU Parliament with a so-called super majority.

However, whether such a majority would come about in Parliament is an open question, because many conservative and right-wing populist forces in Europe have always spoken out against ending the combustion engine. In addition, however, there is also a lawsuit against such a legal act.

Auto industry does not rely on e-fuels

It is also completely open whether the car industry wants to produce cars with combustion engines at all only for e-fuels. The EU Commission requires such an engine to switch off automatically if it is refueled with conventional petrol or diesel.

“With a view to the combustion engine, e-fuels are not strategically relevant for us,” said Andreas Wolf, CEO of the drive manufacturer Vitesco, Tagesspiegel Background. “It is sometimes irritating that a discussion about the combustion engine is now being opened again.”

This is also a purely European debate. In other parts of the world, e-fuels played no role. “I’m in contact with customers all over the world, e-fuels are a marginal phenomenon,” said Wolf. On the question of whether the industry is technically capable of equipping cars with sensors and software that can detect whether fossil or synthetic fuel is being used, Wolf said: “We haven’t even dealt with that yet.” The complexity of a vehicle, that is only functional with e-fuels will in any case be high.

Audi boss Markus Duesmann and Ford Germany boss Martin Sander had previously spoken out in favor of relying entirely on electric cars for the decarbonization of passenger cars. It is mainly small suppliers who produce components for the internal combustion engine who hope for a future for the technology in Europe. But as long as the car manufacturers and the suppliers in the first row do not rely on e-fuels, this will not happen.

Polls supported FDP

Domestically, however, the commitment to the combustion engine seems to be paying off for Volker Wissing and the FDP. A majority of Germans are not only in favor of e-fuels. According to the “Spiegel” government monitor, Wissing and FDP party leader Christian Lindner also improved their personal popularity ratings.

However, this domestic political success comes at a high foreign policy price. Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins expressed concern that Germany’s behavior could have negative repercussions across the European Union. “This is a very, very difficult sign for the future,” he said on the sidelines of the EU summit. It is surprising that a government suddenly decides differently after an agreement has been reached.

“The whole decision-making architecture would fall apart if we all did that,” Karins pointed out. And he asked what should now stop other states from doing the same as Germany. The Latvian Prime Minister warned: “I think that if we have reached an agreement, we should stick to this agreement.”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz seemed quite isolated in Brussels.
© dpa/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Chancellor Olaf Scholz also exchanged blows with the EU Commission about who broke his word in the dispute over the end of combustion engines. He accused the Brussels authorities, like Transport Minister Volker Wissing, of not having made a proposal for months, contrary to what had been promised.

On the other hand, a representative of the EU Commission pointed out that the Brussels authority had by no means promised to submit a proposal on the continued operation of combustion engines with e-fuels before the final vote by the Council of Ministers.

Agreement is important for traffic light coalition

Many in the EU Parliament are also angry. On Thursday, Parliament President Roberta Metsola sent a fire letter to the Swedish Council Presidency, in which she urged rapid adoption “with deep concern” and warned of damage to the European legislative process, without explicitly naming Germany.

Even if there is now an agreement, a lot of porcelain was smashed in Europe. Domestically, an agreement in the combustion engine dispute would be enormously important for Scholz and Wissing.

Because on Sunday they want to convince the Greens in the coalition committee to accelerate the planning of transport projects – including for the controversial expansion of the motorway network. Without an agreement in Brussels, the chances of this would have been slim.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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