EU finalises deal spelling death of diesel and petrol cars

White smoke rose from Brussels as negotiators agreed to ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 in a late-evening meeting.
White smoke rose from Brussels as negotiators agreed to ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 in a late-evening meeting. (Photo: Shutterstock)

European Union legislators agreed to a deal late Thursday evening (27 October) requiring new cars and vans to be zero-emission as of 2035, a momentous agreement that sets Europe on a trajectory to a largely electric automotive future.


By Jonathan Packroff and Sean Goulding Carroll | | Editor: Frédéric Simon

The European Parliament, represented by Dutch centrist lawmaker Jan Huitema, and the Council of the EU, represented by the current presidency holder Czechia, struck a deal shortly before 9pm Brussels time.

Although originally considered one of the most controversial of the EU’s Green Deal legislative proposals, the CO2 standards file progressed rapidly, becoming the first of the so-called ‘Fit for 55’ package to be agreed upon by member states and Parliament.

The legislation will require all new cars and vans sold in the EU to be zero-emission by 2035, a move that effectively prohibits the sale of new petrol and diesel cars running on combustion engine technology.

Lawmakers also agreed on an interim target of a 55% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 2021 levels for cars, and a 50% reduction for vans.

The EU’s climate chief Frans Timmermans, who took part in the evening negotiation, said the agreement sends a strong signal to industry and consumers.

“Europe is embracing the shift to zero-emission mobility. European car makers are already proving they are ready to step up to the plate, with increasing and increasingly affordable electric cars coming to the market,” he said in a statement.

Czech minister of industry and trade Jozef Síkela said the agreement “will pave the way for a modern and competitive automotive industry in the EU”.

CO2 reporting and ‘Ferrari clause’
In addition to the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars, the agreement introduces a new methodology to report on the life-cycle CO2 emissions of vehicles, which the European Commission will present by 2025.

The Commission will also publish a biannual report from 2025 on the progress towards zero-emission road mobility. This will cover the impact on automotive industry employees, as well as consumers.

A dispute around the so-called “Ferrari clause” for niche carmakers was also settled on Thursday evening. Under the deal, lawmakers decided that manufacturers that produce up to 10,000 cars and 22,000 vans per year will be granted an exemption from the interim target. They will however still be required to reach the zero-emission objective by the end of 2035.

Jan Huitema, chief negotiator for the European Parliament, praised the agreement, saying it would “create clarity for the car industry and stimulate innovation and investments for car manufacturers”.

“I am pleased that we reached an agreement with the Council on an ambitious revision of the targets for 2030 and supported a 100% emission reduction target in 2035. This is crucial to reach climate neutrality by 2050 and make clean driving more affordable for our citizens,” he said.

CO2 neutral fuels are in
Despite criticism by the car industry and conservative lawmakers, both the European Parliament and the Council had previously endorsed the 2035 target for zero-emission vehicles.

The main issue of divergence was a sentence in the recitals – a non-binding part of the legislation – which the German government had initially proposed. It asks the European Commission to make a proposal to allow vehicles “running exclusively on CO2-neutral fuels” even beyond 2035.

Critics have warned against this, saying it would leave the door open to cars running on synthetic fuels produced with green electricity, so-called e-fuels.

The recital made it into the final agreement, according to a statement by the Council.

However, the exception is meant to apply “outside the scope of the fleet standards,” as the recital says, which caused confusion as to whether it would apply to all vehicles or not.

Sara Cerdas, a Portuguese MEP who was part of the Parliament delegation in the talks, said the recital was clear: “This means ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, public fleets,” she said in an interview with EURACTIV after the deal was agreed.

Pascal Canfin, the chair of the Parliament’s environment committee, also sought to reassure critics, saying the recital was “very vague” and “brings nothing concrete” except for “stabilising the support of Germany” on the agreement.

The French MEP also drew attention to a new provision inserted in the agreement, which requires the Commission to make a proposal  “in 2023” to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission vehicles in the vehicle fleets of large companies.

“It was a strong request from Parliament to speed up the marketing of zero-emission vehicles and the second-hand market for zero-emission vehicles,” Canfin said in an e-mailed statement.

Centre-right EPP warns of ‘Havana effect’

Even with the recital on e-fuels, the Parliament’s centre-right EPP group criticised the deal, saying it does not allow for sufficient technological diversity.

“Today’s deal slammed shut the door to new technological developments and put all the eggs in one basket. This is a mistake,” Jens Gieseke MEP, the EPP Group negotiator said in a statement.

“With today’s agreement, a ‘Havana effect’ is becoming more realistic. After 2035, our streets might become full of vintage cars, because new cars are not available or not affordable,” warned the German conservative MEP.

In contrast, the Greens welcomed the agreement.

“Europe will be the first continent to phase out the sale of new combustion engine cars by 2035. This kind of ambition shows that the EU can lead the way on climate action and will encourage other regions to accelerate their efforts towards reducing road emissions,” said Bas Eickhout, the Green’s negotiator.

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