The text will force new cars to no longer emit any CO2, effectively banning gasoline, diesel, and hybrid vehicles, in favor of all-electric.
"Broad support" has been found among the ambassadors of the 27 member countries in Brussels, the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU has announced. They agreed that this historic regulation be "put on the agenda" of a meeting of energy ministers on Tuesday for formal adoption, the final step in the legislative process.
This text is part of the European objective of carbon neutrality in 2050.
It marks the end of an industrial era. For more than a century, the Old Continent, cradle of prestigious brands, has dominated automotive innovation. At the heart of its know-how, thermal engines considered to be the most efficient in the world.
Berlin stunned its partners at the beginning of March by blocking the regulation while it had already been approved in mid-February by MEPs meeting in plenary, after a green light from member states, including Germany.
To justify its about-face, which is extremely rare at this stage of the procedure, Germany had asked the Commission to present a proposal paving the way for vehicles running on synthetic fuels.
This technology, controversial and still under development, would consist of producing fuel from CO2 from industrial activities. Defended by high-end German and Italian manufacturers, it would extend the use of combustion engines after 2035.
Synthetic fuels contested
The European Commission and Germany announced on Saturday that they had reached an agreement to unblock the text, which remains unchanged. Brussels has simply committed to paving the way for synthetic fuels more clearly in a separate proposal to be validated by autumn 2024.
Vehicles with combustion engines can be registered after 2035 if they exclusively use CO2-neutral fuels, German Transport Minister Volker Wissing said.
In the opinion of many experts, however, synthetic fuel technology is unlikely to gain traction on the market and would at best only affect a minority of luxury vehicles.
It is contested by environmental NGOs who consider it expensive, energy-consuming and polluting.
The Berlin blockade was an initiative of the liberals of the FDP, the third party in the ruling coalition behind the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens.
This small party, credited with around 5% of voting intentions in national polls, has lost five consecutive regional elections. He hopes to assert himself by posing as a defender of the automobile, betting on the hostility of a large part of the population to the ban on combustion engines.
To ensure the unity of his coalition Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz preferred to align himself with this demand and the Greens let it happen.
Finally, "the text is unchanged. The rule of 100% zero-emission cars in 2035 is therefore maintained," reacted Saturday the president of the Environment Committee of the European Parliament Pascal Canfin (Renew, Liberals), ensuring that he would be vigilant on the respect of the "climate neutrality" of the thermal engines that will be authorized.
The industry has already invested heavily in electric vehicles. Even if they prove their worth, synthetic fuels, which do not exist today, "will not play an important role in the medium term in the passenger car segment," Markus Duesmann, head of Audi (Volkswagen Group), said recently.
Because of their cost, they will only make sense for a few luxury cars "like Porsche 911s or Ferraris," says Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, an expert at the Center Automotive Research in Germany.
© 2023 AFP