Germany’s finance minister pushes to save car engines from EU green plans

EuroActiv Politico News

BERLIN — Germany’s Porsche-driving finance minister is mounting a last-minute push to save the combustion engine, claiming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to make changes to incoming emissions legislation.

Christian Lindner told POLITICO that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had reached a backroom deal with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in June to ensure that the use of synthetic fuels, or e-fuels, would be permitted under fresh EU fuel efficiency standards that will introduce a zero emissions mandate for new car and vans sales by 2035.

“There were talks between the federal chancellor and Ursula von der Leyen on this,” Lindner said. “I have no doubt that this understanding will also flow into concrete political steps.”

The Commission declined to comment, referring only to an earlier statement that does not specifically address e-fuels and commits only to launching another legislative initiative “if appropriate.”

A spokesperson for Scholz did not respond to a request for comment.

EU countries, the European Parliament and the Commission agreed on an EU-wide sales ban for polluting vehicles by 2035, which effectively mandates the industry switch to electric or hydrogen. They’re now negotiating the final details, with the goal of reaching a deal by early next year. 

Germany did manage to slip in a mention of e-fuels in June’s Council conclusions, but they’re in a non-binding addition and not in the main text. 

“There was a common understanding of how to interpret this [non-binding recital] and what follows from it. Otherwise it would not have been possible for Germany to agree to the fleet limits,” Lindner said.

To seek support for such a late change to the draft law, Lindner and Transport Minister Volker Wissing met with Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton in Berlin on September 8. One official briefed on the meeting said Lindner sought support for changes to the text that would make sure e-fuels could be used in vehicles sold after 2035.

However, reopening the issue at such a late stage is a red line for the Parliament’s lead negotiator amid claims that the legislative annex was introduced merely to offer Lindner a symbolic win. E-fuels are important for Lindner, who sees them as crucial to the survival of Germany’s powerful car industry. 

E-fuels are made by combining atmospheric CO2 and hydrogen and can be used in traditional engines instead of fossil fuels. Supporters say the technology removes the same amount of carbon as it emits, making the fuels climate neutral and something that could save the internal combustion engine. However, the fuels still emit poisonous nitrogen oxide, and skeptics doubt their green credentials.

The German transport ministry declined to comment.