While environmental groups and Greens are alarmed, the FDP is getting the backing of the Union: Even one day before the decisive vote in the EU Environment Council on the combustion engine exit, it is still unclear how the federal government will position itself.

In the dispute over the German position on the possible end of combustion engines at EU level, there is still no clear line from the federal government.

This Tuesday, the EU member states are to decide in the Environment Council whether they support the ban on new registrations of vehicles with combustion engines from 2035. Within the federal government, the internal coalition votes on how Germany will position itself on this sensitive issue continued on Monday.

Deputy government spokesman Wolfgang Büchner said he was confident that the talks “will come to a good result” – even if there is little time left until Tuesday.

In the past few days, different views on this important decision have become clear between the coalition partner FDP and the Green Environment Minister Steffi Lemke. While the FDP strictly rejects the Commission’s proposal to phase out combustion engines from 2035, Lemke defends the project. The Greens politician also points out that the federal government has long agreed to approve the plan.

Habeck willing to compromise

The Green Minister for Climate and Economic Affairs, Robert Habeck, indicated a willingness to compromise on the combustion engine question on Monday, without giving any further details. “Europe is a living compromise machine, and we’re working on it,” said Habeck on Monday in Luxembourg. A good solution had to be found for different “special perspectives” from different EU countries, he explained.

Green party leader Ricarda Lang was more specific, pointing out that the SPD, Greens and FDP had agreed on a very clear position in their coalition agreement. “I am sure that Germany will also behave within the framework of this coalition agreement,” said Lang on Monday after deliberations of the party executive in Berlin. Since negotiations have also been taking place at European level on the basis of this position in recent months, not only climate policy credibility is at stake for Germany, but also European policy credibility, said Lang.

The Greens leader is alluding to a passage in the coalition agreement that is intended to guarantee that vehicles that can be refueled with synthetic fuels, so-called e-fuels, can also be newly registered in the future – a sticking point in the dispute between the FDP and the Greens. There it says: “Outside the existing system of fleet limits, we are committed to ensuring that only vehicles that can be refueled with e-fuels can be newly registered.” A passage that is obviously interpreted differently by the respective coalition partners.

The so-called fleet limits determine how many greenhouse gases newly manufactured cars are allowed to emit during operation. From 2035, according to the Commission’s proposal, the value should drop to zero, which in fact can only be achieved by a ban on new registrations for combustion engines. No problem for Environment Minister Lemke, since from her point of view the use of e-fuels is only conceivable in certain areas “outside the fleet limits”, such as in air traffic. The FDP, on the other hand, does not want to support a general ban on combustion engines, which could slow down e-fuels, regardless of fleet limits.

The Liberals are also getting tailwind from the ranks of the Union, which also rejects the plan to phase out combustion engines as not expedient.

What does Chancellor Scholz say?

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), on the other hand, has not yet made a clear statement on this question. Representatives of environmental organizations such as Greenpeace boss Martin Kaiser called on the Chancellor on Monday to “unmistakably speak out for an end to the combustion engine”. Deputy government spokesman Büchner only made it clear that the federal government supports the EU climate protection package “Fit for 55” and the proposal to revise the CO2 emission standards for new cars and light commercial vehicles. Everything else will be coordinated within the coalition.

If approval of the project fails due to the veto of the FDP, the federal government could abstain. In this way, the necessary majority could be just as jeopardized as in the case of a dissenting vote.