German minister warns EU against toughening car emissions targets

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) are waiting to receive the certificate of discharge by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at the Bellevue Pallace in Berlin, Germany, 24 October 2017. [Clemens Bilan / EPA]

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that he is against any toughening of European car emissions targets by 2025, warning that stricter rules would cost jobs and growth.

German carmaker Volkswagen’s admission in 2015 that it used software to cheat US diesel emission tests also highlighted the laxness of the EU’s own tests and prompted the European Commission to seek broader supervisory powers, including the ability to impose fines on carmakers.

Gabriel, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) who went into opposition after a Sept. 24 federal election, wrote to Juncker saying the auto sector was a key industry for Germany and a worldwide guarantor of jobs and growth.

“It is therefore very important to me that we do not stifle the innovation power of the automotive industry by overly tight EU legislation,” Gabriel said in the letter seen by Reuters.

Gabriel said there should be a review in 2025 of the progress towards 2030 auto emission reduction targets, rather than have binding goals already in 2025.

He added that any forms of quotas for electric vehicles (EVs) as well as a toughening of the EU’s car emissions goals by more than 20% by 2025 would be dangerous.

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Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, another senior SPD member, sharply criticised Gabriel’s stance and questioned the responsibility of the former SPD leader and former economics minister for the policy area of car emissions.

“The letter of the Foreign Minister to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is wrong in the matter and it is also not coordinated within the federal government,” she told Reuters.

Ambitious targets for cars to reduce CO2 emissions are needed to reach the EU’s climate protection goals, Hendricks said, adding she did not understand in what capacity Gabriel was writing the letter.

Hendricks pointed to the fact the SPD as a party had clearly committed itself to a “courageous entry into electric mobility” including quotas for EVs.

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