BERLIN — EU plans to end the sale of new combustion-engined cars by 2035 are tearing Germany’s ruling three-party coalition apart.
The stakes are high as the European Commission’s proposal to impose zero emissions for cars by 2035 will drive a revolution in Germany’s biggest and most powerful industry.
The issue was dealt with in talks last year that created the coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Liberal Democrats (FDP). The Greens won support for the Commission’s 2035 plan, while the FDP pledged to consider synthetic fuels, which are made from renewable energy but are far from commercial scale. Under the governance pact, these fuels would be promoted “outside” the scope of EU rules on emission standards.
But now that clumsy compromise is unraveling as key members of government brawled publicly as EU ministers negotiated their position on the Commission’s proposal on Tuesday.
German Finance Minister and FDP leader Christian Lindner said last week he was ready to backtrack on the coalition deal following intense lobbying by the car industry, warning against significant job losses if the bloc goes ahead with its zero emissions plan.
He threatened to block it unless there are significant changes to allow alternatives, such as e-fuels, that could keep combustion engines alive.
This prompted an immediate backlash in Berlin, with Environment Minister Steffi Lemke of the Greens rejecting Lindner’s bet and saying the Federal Government should stick to its “previously agreed path”.
There was an effort to keep the spat secret and not trigger a meeting of senior party leaders, a German government official told POLITICO on Monday.
“Nobody wants a show,” the official said before the Council meeting. “If you bring together the steering committee of the coalition, you create expectations and you have to say something to the press.”
The plan didn’t work.
Arriving in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Lemke said she was ready to accept the 2035 phase-out date after talks within the German government. Berlin’s backing came with a critical condition for its auto industry, calling on the Commission to create a loophole for vehicles with engines running on carbon-neutral fuels.
In practice, this would only apply to racing cars, fire trucks and other industrial vehicles not covered by CO2 standards legislation.
But that’s not enough for Lindner.
“The statements of the Minister of the Environment are surprising,” he said. tweeted Tuesday after Lemke’s comments. “They don’t match the agreements. It should be possible to use combustion engines with CO2-free fuels in all vehicles after 2035.”
By lunchtime, the dispute had found its way to the G7 leaders’ summit at Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, hosted by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“We have already decided that we want to allow cars with CO2-neutral technologies – with electric fuels – to be registered after 2035,” SPD’s Scholz told reporters – a position close to Lindner’s that seems out of context. in accordance with its green ministers and the original coalition agreement.
German disarray adds to the tension around the 2035 exit. It is part of the larger Fit for 55 package, which aims to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.
Poland said on Monday it would not support phasing out. Last week, Italy, Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia suggested pushing back the elimination date to 2040 and lowering the 2035 target to 90%. The French government has also expressed skepticism.
Ministers are due to finalize the Council’s position on 2035 and other Fit for 55 dossiers in talks due to take place late Tuesday night.