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Von der Leyen fails to steer a deal between Berlin and Brussels on car engine ban – POLITICO


MESEBERG, Germany — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s effort to lift a German block on EU legislation that would ban the sale of new CO2-emitting cars and vans from 2035 came up short despite a meeting with top German government officials on Sunday.

The Commission president’s trip to the government’s Meseberg palace retreat just outside Berlin was overshadowed by Germany’s unexpected hardball over the 2035 legislation.

Von der Leyen didn’t get a deal, but she did get a commitment that the two sides would keep talking.

“We are in a constructive dialogue,” she said after talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and senior ministers.

Scholz said: “This is such a solvable task that we are all quite confident.”

But for now the standoff remains.

The liberal Free Democrats (FDP) — the smallest party in Scholz’s three-way coalition — blocked the final approval of the 2035 measure, pushing for a loophole for vehicles running on e-fuels — a synthetic alternative to gasoline.

The argument is that e-fuels will allow carmakers to continue making combustion engine cars rather than be forced to switch to switch to batteries or hydrogen — crucial for big car producers. Germany has the backing of Italy, Poland and Bulgaria — and the four have enough weight to prevent the final adoption of the law.

The spat with Berlin prompted the Swedish Council presidency on Friday to postpone a final vote by EU ministers that had been set for Tuesday.

Von der Leyen, a former German minister, was non-confrontational. She said she fully supported the “principle of technology openness,” echoing the position of the FDP’s Transport Minister Volker Wissing, who argues the bloc should be careful about imposing solutions on industry.

However, von der Leyen added that this can’t upend the EU’s climate policy goals, which call for a radical cut in greenhouse gas emissions from transport to meet the bloc’s target of becoming climate neutral by 2050.

“We’re still working on that, but the discussion has been very good and constructive,” von der Leyen said, adding that a solution needs to be found quickly to give the automotive industry time to plan for the phaseout of its prized combustion engine technology.

Last year, Finance Minister and FDP chief Christian Lindner told POLITICO that Scholz had reached a backroom deal with von der Leyen to make sure that e-fuels would be permitted under the EU’s emissions standards.

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

Wissing wants the Commission to put forward a proposal on how to allow room for e-fuels in the final legislation.

“The ball is now somewhere between Berlin and Brussels,” said one German government official working on the file.

Joshua Posaner contributed reporting.

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