A German proposal circulated on the fringes of the EU Competitiveness Council on 27 September calls for phasing-in the EU’s 95 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) fuel efficiency standard for passenger cars over a four-year period ending in 2024.

The proposal, which has been confirmed to EurActiv by several diplomats, would apply the standard to 80% of national fleets in 2020, with a 5% increase in each of the following years, reaching 100% in 2024.

The green think tank Transport and Environment estimates that the scaling down of ambition would lead to an emissions standard of 104g/km in 2020, falling to 100g/km in 2022 before reaching 95g/km in 2024.  

Sources close to Berlin say that while the country supports ambitious CO2 emission targets in the transport sector, "car producers should be able to reach the 2020 target in the most cost-effective manner."

If Germany’s bid is successful, it would torpedo a compromise agreement reached by the Irish presidency last June and, simultaneously, end any hopes of the 2025 fuel efficiency goal that the European Commission and Parliament had wanted kept open.

One EU diplomat told EurActiv that the Germans “have just copied and pasted their industry’s wildest dreams.”

The new plan could be used to leverage Germany long-standing position – an expansion of the super-credits system that would benefit the heavier models produced by its car-makers. “It is the stick behind the door,” the diplomat said. “It could be a smart move to try to buy some flexibility but personally, I doubt it.”

Diplomats will now go back to their national capitals to discuss the plan and, despite unease at Berlin’s tactics, it is unclear how they will respond.

Germany delayed a vote on the previous compromise package by using what several diplomatic sources called a strategy of threats, blackmail and intimidation.   

EurActiv understands that if normal procedure is followed and a vote is taken by EU ministers, the Irish-negotiated compromise proposal is likely to pass. But if Germany manages to get its own proposal put to a vote alongside the official text, the result is less clear, especially if Berlin decides to play hardball.

Sources believe that the UK and France might not oppose Germany, while Portugal and Austria could hesitate.

“What’s happening is a bit of a scandal,” another EU diplomat said. “For three months we had an agreed package that the European Parliament has been waiting for, and yet the Germans have managed to take it out from every vote at Coreper [the EU member states' permanent representatives committee].”

The source said that the only reason for the delay was that Germany was afraid it would not have a blocking minority in any vote, adding: “Parliament should be very angry with the Council.”

Initial reports - attributed to Berlin - that the German proposal had support from other EU states were stoutly denied by representatives of those states, contacted by EurActiv.