Tough EU car emission rules ‘necessary’, says leader of key German state

The minister-president of the car-focused state Baden-Württemberg has said that 2035 fleet emission targets would be hard but necessary. [EPA-EFE/Sean Gallup / POOL]

The European Union’s proposed package of energy and climate laws received surprise backing from the leader of Baden-Württemberg, an influential German state which is renowned worldwide for its cutting-edge automotive industry.

“The automotive industry will have to make a huge effort” in order to achieve the EU’s proposed zero emission target for new cars that is expected to come into effect as of 2035, said Winfried Kretschmann, the minister-president of Baden-Württemberg.

While the European Commission’s proposal to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2035 is embraced by carmakers like Volkswagen and Daimler, it was met with scepticism from German industry associations.

However, those efforts will be “necessary”, Kretschmann added during an exchange in the German Bundesrat last month, saying: “It is our common task to make the necessary climate policy and to support our companies to the best of our ability.”

The Bundesrat is the organ which convenes the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states. The transcript of the exchange was released on 27 December, weeks after the meeting was held.

Germany’s federal states play a crucial role in upcoming negotiations over Europe’s climate and energy laws and the support from Baden-Württemberg is significant in that context.

The car sector is one of the largest employers in the 11-million strong state, which is known for paying heed to the interests of its industry. Kretschmann once famously said that “the minister-president of Baden-Württemberg drives a Daimler and that’s it.”

EU signals end of internal combustion engine by 2035

Sales of new cars and vans that produce carbon emissions will be banned as of 2035, proposals tabled by the European Commission revealed on Wednesday (14 July), a move which all but guarantees that the era of the internal combustion engine (ICE) is drawing to a close in the EU.

Kretschmann’s comments in support of EU legislation were echoed by other German state officials. “Those who make the effort to talk to the managers of the automotive industry and the suppliers know that regulatory limits and requirements are good,” said Winfried Hermann, transport minister of Baden-Württemberg.

“In Baden-Württemberg there are plenty of opportunities for this; the car industry itself is also very active and communicative,” he added.

His colleagues were similarly reluctant to criticise individual aspects of the EU’s climate and energy package, only noting a lack of ambition in some areas like the bloc’s proposed 40% renewable energy target for 2030.

“We should not enter into a race for ever smaller regulations,” warned Stephan Holthoff-Pförtner, European affairs minister for the state North Rhine-Westphalia, which has a population of almost 18 million.

“We should offer a solution that is technology-neutral and market based,” he added, saying he favoured emissions trading as the optimal solution. He also voiced support for the EU proposal to introduce a carbon border levy.

Bavaria, the third of the most influential German states, abstained from the discussion.

Vice-Chancellor courting German states

The exchange of views was also Vice-Chancellor and Climate Minister Robert Habeck’s first speech in front of a constitutional organ. “We will have a lot to discuss with each other over the next four years,” he told the German Bundesrat.

Much of what is federal state competence would fall within his ministry, said Habeck who is at the helm of a newly created super-ministry spanning the economy, energy and climate protection.

With the European Commission’s proposed package of climate and energy laws, the markets of tomorrow are being created now, he said. “The mass of the future is actually sung,” he told the leaders of Germany’s federal states.

The true focus would have to be speed, he told the minister-presidents. “Germany has reduced its CO2 emissions by 40% in the last 30 years” but only has eight years left to cut another 25%, he said.

Noting the celebration of the successful electrification of a railway in Baden-Württemberg which had taken 40 years, he added: “we will get nowhere with such models. In that case, we will all fail.”

German industry gears up for its next lobbying battle: the internal combustion engine

While German carmakers unveil their latest electric vehicles at the International Motor Show in Munich, the industry associations they are members of have made their position clear: the next German government must fight for the internal combustion engine at EU level.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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