German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said talks were constructive with the European Union in resolving a dispute over plans to ban new combustion-engine cars in the bloc from 2035, after Berlin derailed the effort this past week.
Scholz met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the sidelines of a government retreat in Meseberg north of Berlin on Sunday.
German Transport Minister Volker Wissing said he was optimistic that the dispute could be solved, but added a decision did not need to be made in the coming days. "We are on the right track," Wissing said on Monday..
Germany has put pressure on the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to come forward with a proposal that would allow combustion cars running exclusively on e-fuels to continue to be sold after the cut-off date.
A final vote on the issue was due to take place on March 7, but was delayed amid fears that Germany could abstain, which would torpedo the regulation.
“We are in a constructive dialog,” von der Leyen told reporters after the meeting. “We give full support for technological openness, but it must be in line with our goal of climate change.” She added that the discussions were “good and constructive.”
The EU has not yet rescheduled the vote. The Commission and Sweden, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, are in talks with countries to seek agreement.
Decarbonizing transport is seen as a key pillar of the EU’s goal to cut emissions by 55 percent this decade on the way to climate neutrality by 2050.
But cars hold particular importance in Germany, where the auto industry employs about 800,000 people and has revenue of about 411 billion euros ($437 billion), making it the largest segment of the economy by far.
The intervention by Germany comes at a very late stage of the process and the vote this week was supposed to be a formality after the EU’s 27 member states reached a deal with parliament on the rules in October.
Substantial changes to the regulation now would require reopening the file — a process that could take many months and add uncertainty to the outcome.
Instead, the Commission could try to solve the matter with a statement or declaration making clear its intention to come up with a proposal.
Scholz said that the issue is what can be achieved regarding the outlook for vehicles that exclusively use e-fuels after 2035.
“It’s not at all about differences of opinion but about the question of how it can work,” the chancellor said. “And that is such a solvable question that we are all very optimistic — not just within the German government but also regarding our talks with the commission.”
The FDP, the junior partner in Scholz’s three-party alliance, has been the driving force behind opposition to the combustion engine ban.
FDP officials including Transport Minister Volker Wissing have been trying to raise the party’s profile in the government in recent months and he called on the Commission to come up with a viable solution, such as making combustion engines that run on synthetic fuels exempt from the ban.
“The internal combustion engine itself is not the problem, the fossil fuels it runs on are,” Wissing said Sunday in a tweet.
“Climate neutrality is the goal and at the same time an opportunity for new technologies,” he added. “To achieve this, we have to be open to different solutions.”