In the dispute over a possible phasing out of combustion engines from 2035, the Federal Government has defined its position during the ongoing EU negotiations. Accordingly, cars with combustion engines should also be allowed to be registered after 2035 if they use climate-friendly synthetic fuels (e-fuels). The traffic light coalition had previously sent conflicting signals. For the German proposal to pass, a qualified majority of EU ministers must agree to it.

E-mobility, transport policy and future mobility: the briefing on transport and smart mobility. For decision makers

As a government spokesman announced on Tuesday, the federal government supports a proposal in the EU Council on fleet limits as a “contribution on the way to climate-neutral mobility”. This is equivalent to the combustion ban.

At the same time, the EU Commission has pledged to make a proposal outside of the system of so-called CO2 fleet limits on how vehicles could be approved after 2035 that would then be operated “exclusively” with e-fuels. According to the common understanding of the federal government, this also applies to passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. In FDP circles it was said that this position had been agreed with the FDP.

It was previously unclear whether Germany would agree to the end of new combustion cars – or abstain. The topic had caused a heated argument in the federal government, and the FDP had great concerns. She had insisted that after 2035, combustion cars that run on e-fuels could also be approved.

On the other hand, Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke spoke in the ZDF “Morgenmagazin” only about exceptions for combustion engines outside of the passenger car sector if they use climate-friendly fuels. She cited fire engines, shipping and air traffic as examples. The FDP now seems to have prevailed.

Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing welcomed the agreement. The FDP politician said on Tuesday in Berlin that the way was clear for approval in the EU Council of Ministers. The ban on the internal combustion engine is “off the table”.

The whole thing had always been the concern of the FDP and corresponded to what was laid out in the coalition agreement. “The fact that there were different interpretations of this was a problem. But we solved this today.”

Wissing went on to say: “We want to achieve climate neutrality in a technology-neutral manner and not exclude technologies at an early stage whose importance cannot yet be conclusively assessed in the future.”

The system of the so-called CO2 fleet limits stipulates how much CO2 new cars and light commercial vehicles are allowed to emit. The proposal is to reduce emissions to zero by 2035. Vehicles that have already been registered would not be affected by such a de facto ban on combustion engines in 2035.

But now the EU ministers responsible for the environment still have to agree. They discussed Tuesday in Luxembourg. Long deliberations into the night were expected. Countries such as Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia have also spoken out against the de facto ban on internal combustion engines and have called for an extension to 2040. It was not yet clear whether they would support the German compromise.

The background to the German proposal is that cars and vans should be operated with alternative fuels in a climate-neutral manner. However, critics note that there are already too few of these “green” fuels for aviation and shipping, which are less easy to run electrically than cars or vans.

In addition, it is more energy-intensive to operate cars with e-fuels than to drive them directly electrically. “For cars, the technology question has long been decided – namely for electromobility,” said the director of Agora Verkehrswende, Christian Hochfeld, the “Rheinische Post”.

The auto industry’s reaction to the potential ban has been mixed. “It can come – we are best prepared,” said Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess. He referred to the electric models that are already on offer and those that are still planned, as well as the strategies for in-house battery cell production and more in-house software.

BMW CEO Oliver Zipse, on the other hand, thinks the ban is wrong. “To put everything on one card these days is an industrial policy mistake,” said Zipse. The Association of the Automotive Industry stated that a nationwide Europe-wide charging infrastructure was a mandatory requirement; this is not yet the case in Germany.

In addition to a de facto ban on new cars and vans with combustion engines from 2035, the EU environment ministers also tried to agree on a common position on the reform of EU emissions trading and on a climate social fund worth billions.

With emissions trading (ETS), certain industries have to pay for the emission of climate-damaging gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Countries like Poland are critical of the expansion because they fear additional costs for consumers. Therefore, many countries are relying on the climate social fund, which is intended to relieve the burden on affected consumers. Germany in particular, where the system already applies to buildings and transport, spoke out in favor of reducing the fund.