French transport minister warns against ‘risky’ e-fuels loophole in car engine spat

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PARIS — French Transport Minister Clément Beaune on Friday said that Germany’s proposal to save the combustion engine is “risky.”

“Our choice for 2035 must remain — as we have collectively committed to do, including Germany — to get out of combustion engine vehicles,” Beaune told POLITICO in an interview, adding that “we must not blur the signal” sent to the car industry.

His comments come after Germany proposed making room for e-fuels — synthetic alternatives to fossil fuels made from hydrogen and CO2 that can be used in traditional combustion engines — in legislation that would otherwise mandate a zero emissions-only sales policy for new cars and vans from 2035.

“We are still discussing but it looks difficult to imagine a situation in which we manage to combine the use of e-fuels and the banning of the combustion engine in 2035,” the minister said, adding that he remained open to examining all proposals that would not put in question the 2035 ban.

“Leaving too much openness on the technological choice [on fuel] is risky,” he said, adding that e-fuels will be more needed in other sectors such as aviation.

Germany, along with Italy, Poland and Bulgaria, threatened to oppose new EU rules that would ban the sale of combustion engine vehicles from 2035. The legislation had already been agreed in negotiations between member countries and the European Parliament last year, and it needed the final nod of capitals to become EU law.

For Beaune, Berlin’s change of position was down to domestic politics. “It’s also an internal debate within the German coalition, which I respect,” he said.

Beaune didn’t rule out the possibility that the topic could come up in a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels next week.