EU ministers to approve vehicle emissions law after deal with Germany

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty Images

EU ministers are expected to approve a draft law on emissions standards for cars on Tuesday, after reaching a deal with Germany over the weekend that ended a damaging row over a key part of Europe’s green deal.

Pascal Canfin, a French centrist MEP who chairs the European parliament’s environment committee, said an EU law that all cars sold from 2035 must produce zero emissions “will be voted unchanged, including by Germany” on Tuesday.

Diplomats meeting on Monday approved the compromise agreed between Berlin and Brussels over the weekend, which will allow some combustion engines if they fill up with so-called climate neutral e-fuels. Although Italy and Poland oppose the law and Bulgaria is abstaining, it is expected to be approved by a majority of EU countries on Tuesday.

The row blew up after Germany’s Free Democratic party, a member of the three-way governing coalition, withdrew support from an EU plan to ban the sale of new cars powered by internal combustion from 2035 without stronger guarantees for e-fuels.

After going back on a deal agreed between EU ministers and the European parliament last October, the German government secured further concessions over the future use of e-fuels, which are not yet commercially available.

Germany’s transport minister, Volker Wissing, said: “Vehicles with internal combustion engines can still be newly registered after 2035 if they fill up exclusively with CO2-neutral fuels.”

The European Commission vice-president, Frans Timmermans, tweeted that after the agreement with Germany, the commission would follow up “swiftly with the necessary legal steps” to implement what had been agreed and get the regulation adopted “as swiftly as possible”.

The dispute was a sign of growing tensions about the EU’s green deal, a set of laws intended to ensure Europe achieves net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Berlin’s U-turn on a done deal also triggered concerns among some countries of copycat behaviour that would undermine EU decision-making.

The pro-business FDP’s last-minute revolt reflected concerns in the powerful German car industry among companies that have specialised in manufacturing parts unique to combustion engines such as exhaust pipes.

E-fuels, which can be made from captured carbon dioxide and hydrogen, or the chemical or thermal treatment of biofuels or biomass, are thought likely to remain scarce for years to come.

The European Association for Machinery and Equipment Manufacturers welcomed “a wise and forward-looking decision that all technological solutions can continue to be used to achieve the ambitious climate protection targets”.

Campaigners at Transport and Environment have described e-fuels as “a fake climate solution that will be too expensive for most drivers”.

The draft regulation includes a clause that obliges EU officials to assess progress in 2026 on the phase-out of petrol and diesel-powered cars, including the role of new technologies. The commission had already promised to draft a future law on vehicles running exclusively on CO2-neutral fuels. For these reasons, EU officials and politicians involved in the law considered Germany’s stalling over e-fuels unnecessary.