Berlin secures exemption for e-fuel vehicles

The German Ministry of Transport has secured an exemption from the EU Commission which will allow new cars with combustion engines to be registered even after 2035, provided they are powered by climate-neutral e-fuels. Commentators criticise the German government's conduct, while opinions on the exemption itself are divided.

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Le Monde (FR) /

A waste of valuable resources

The compromise on e-fuels will jeopardise Europe's energy transition, Le Monde warns:

“Their production requires enormous amounts of electricity, which will in turn lead to a disastrous energy balance. Moreover, the energy used must be CO2-free. However, our demand [for green electricity] is expected to increase sevenfold by 2050 if the EU's emission reduction targets are to be met. Every megawatt hour will be precious. So burning e-fuels in powerful cars is certainly not the most sensible use of this 'green' energy. ... This decision, as Volkswagen bosses admit, could become an 'untimely distraction' for carmakers, who would be better off focusing on improving electric battery technology.”

Új Szó (SK) /

Far from market-ready

The production costs of e-fuels are also a problem, adds Új Szó:

“The production of e-fuels is hampered above all by their energy intensity. Moreover, the production of such a fuel today costs 6-7 euros per litre, which clearly makes it uncompetitive on the market. ... Regardless of yesterday's agreement, the production of e-fuels remains expensive and it is not clear when there will be a decisive drop in the production costs.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Damaging to Europe's unity and image

After Germany pushed through an exemption for e-fuels France now also wants an exemption for nuclear power. All this undermines the EU, Jutarnji list chides:

“Apparently, Berlin and Paris are a bit more equal than the others. And that will further shake the unity of the EU. This unity is often apparent when it comes to principles, although even these are increasingly being called into question, and even broken when concrete interests, especially in matters of energy, finance and migration, are at stake. A potential renunciation or watering down of the goal to ban diesel and petrol cars after 2035 would also damage the EU's image as leader of the effort to stop global warming.”

Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (FI) /

A reasonable compromise

For Maaseudun Tulevaisuus, technology must be allowed to play a key role in the fight against climate change:

“Although Germany and other car industry countries are accused of undermining the credibility of EU legislation, the compromise is a victory for common sense and also for the climate. There is consensus that transport emissions must be reduced, but electric cars are not the only way to do this. It is up to politicians to set emissions limits, but they must be open regarding which means and technology are used to achieve them. ... Finland has fared better than many other countries in the energy crisis that followed Russia's invasion. The main reason is that Finland's energy mix has been exceptionally diverse for many years.”

Kurier (AT) /

A deceptive compromise

Kurier still sees many open questions regarding e-fuels:

“The compromise announced on Saturday with a new category of cars to be developed that will only run on e-fuels is deceptive. Firstly, it is by no means clear that any car companies beyond Porsche and Ferrari will produce such cars. Secondly, although there will be a massive boost in e-fuel production in the coming years, the shipping industry, airlines and the chemical industry will need all this extra fuel. And thirdly, heaven only knows what these e-fuels will cost.” (DE) /

A bad example

The damage Germany has done on the European stage will have consequences, fears:

“Germany comes across as a country that cannot be relied on. ... At the summit in Brussels it was noticeable that one head of government did not say anything this time. One who usually never misses an opportunity to be awkward, the Hungarian head of government Victor Orbán, simply had to listen. And he got the message: yesterday's decisions can be questioned today if it makes governing easier at home. Germany has done this, after all. Of all the combustion engine problems, the copycat effect is the most dangerous.”

Le Quotidien (LU) /

Pileup in Brussels

Germany's about-face will have major consequences for the economy and the climate, Le Quotidien points out:

“The cacophony becomes even louder when you consider that a majority of German carmakers don't seem to be factoring synthetic fuels into their planning. ... Nonetheless, carmakers need some degree of certainty now in order to make plans for the long term. The pileup Germany has caused could do considerable damage to the economy, but above all to the climate. Some already fear that the veto against the moratorium on combustion engines could lead to further blockades of the energy turnaround we so urgently need.”

Les Echos (FR) /

A stab in the back for the legislative process

The business paper Les Echos looks to Germany, torn between indignation and envy:

“Berlin's demand has already been rejected twice by the EU Parliament and once by the member states. By torpedoing the legislative process in this way, Germany runs the risk of disinhibiting other countries regarding the defence of their individual interests and blocking the European machinery even more. One might resent this. But one might also believe that the showdown against Germany would be more balanced if France had preserved its financial power through better management of its budget. Berlin's chances of saving its industry are good. Ours are not.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

New alliances

Lidové noviny is pleased that Eastern and Western European EU countries have come together to form a blockade against the phasing out of the internal combustion engine:

“The cliché has been established that on fundamental issues the EU is divided into West and East, or into progressive Europeans and dirty post-communists. Now, apparently for the first time in the EU, countries like the Czech Republic can also rely on Germany to form a blocking minority. The Germans have no illusions that their cars will run on petrol forever, as they did in the days of Carl Benz. But they don't want to throw away the technology only to have to import electric cars from China. No matter how it all turns out - we are at a turning point.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Let Germany's back-paddling be a warning

La Vanguardia calls for maximum consensus on climate policy:

“Berlin's last-minute change of position is amateurish and has caused unease in several countries. Such a last-minute withdrawal from a joint agreement sets a dangerous precedent for future EU negotiations. ... This should serve as a warning to lawmakers to weigh more carefully the impact of measures on business and employment. We must strive for maximum balance. ... That is a guarantee of success.”

Salzburger Nachrichten (AT) /

No time to lose

France and Germany are standing in the way of the the green transition, the Salzburger Nachrichten criticises:

“President Emmanuel Macron is obsessively trying to impose his own decision in favour of nuclear power on the entire European Union. ... And Olaf Scholz is letting his coalition partner, the FDP, have its way, which in a panic after losing five regional elections in a row is suddenly questioning a key element of the European green transition: the phasing out of climate-damaging car engines from 2035. ... We are running out of time to set the course for a carbon-free and sustainable future. Neither nuclear power plants nor combustion engines are part of it.”