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24th Aug 2019

German ministries were at war over CO2 car cuts

  • German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel (l) speaking to commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in Berlin (Photo: European Commission)

The German government sent conflicting messages to the European Commission last year as input to the EU's new CO2 targets for cars.

Reuters already reported last November that German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, of the Social Democrats, went rogue by calling on the commission to go soft on Europe's car industry, by slackening possible CO2 cut targets.

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  • Within seven days, the European Commission received three letters from Berlin with conflicting requests to change a draft bill on CO2 regulation of cars (Photo: Peter Teffer)

But letters from Berlin made public following an access to documents request by EUobserver show that Gabriel was not the only government official trying to water down the draft bill on CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles.

Three politicians, all from the German coalition's centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) were involved.

They each tried to influence the commission in the seven days before the EU executive revealed the draft regulation, which included CO2 reduction targets for 2025 and 2030.

On 3 November 2017, Gabriel wrote to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, asking for deadlines that were not too strict and did not "stifle" innovation power of the German automotive industry.

"Instead of a binding and punitive target as early as 2025, the Commission should consider undertaking a review of the previously established status on the way to the 2030 targets," Gabriel wrote in the letter, which was subsequently leaked and reported on in the press.

But just four days later, on 7 November 2017, environment state secretary Jochen Flasbarth wrote to EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete.

Not speaking with one voice

Flasbarth did not mention Gabriel by name, but said that the views expressed by "members of the German government ... do not represent the coordinated position of the German government".

He stressed to Canete the position of Germany's environment ministry, "which has the lead responsibility for the dossier".

Flasbarth supported the mandatory interim targets for 2025, and in fact went beyond what the commission would eventually propose.

The German state secretary said that there should be "consequences" for car companies that do not achieve a certain minimum share of electric vehicles in their fleet – something which the commission in its proposal did not include.

But the same day that Flasbarth was writing to Canete that his ministry was in charge of the file, Germany's minister for economic affairs and energy Brigitte Zypries went behind his back and also wrote to Canete.

Zypries asked Canete – in a letter on which she had added hand-writing 'Lieber Miguel Canete', or 'Dear Miguel Canete' – if the interim target could be moved.

She said that the car industry needed more time to come up with innovation and investment.

"I would be delighted if you were in favour of postponing the interim target of 2025 to 2026 in the draft regulation," said Zypries.

The documents were made public last week, just days before chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union approved another grand coalition with the SPD on Monday (26 February).

Increased ambition

In contrast, other member states called on the commission to increase its ambition.

French prime minister Edouard Philippe wrote to the commission to ask for a 40 percent reduction target by 2030 – a goal also lobbied for in a joint letter signed by ministers from Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Slovenia.

"For sure some member states have asked for more ambition, but there are other member states who have asked for less ambition," said Canete at a press conference when presenting the proposal.

In the end, the commission went with a 30 percent reduction by 2030, and an interim 15 percent reduction target for 2025.

New Commission CO2 rules for cars include some 'leeway'

Cars should emit 30 percent less CO2 by 2030, the Commission proposed, but carmakers will be allowed to miss that target (up to a point) if they manufacture a certain share of low emission vehicles.

Germany gets its way on EU car emissions

EU environment ministers have caved in to German pressure and agreed to reopen a deal on capping car emissions, to the disappointment of climate change campaigners.

Car lobby uses Brexit to dispute CO2 targets

The lobby group for European car manufacturers has said that if UK sales data is not counted when calculating CO2 emissions, the target should be reviewed. The commission has refused to comment.

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