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European Parliament heads for car engine ban nail-biter

Killing the internal combustion engine was never going to be easy.

European Parliament lawmakers vote Wednesday on whether to mandate an end to the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars and vans from 2035.

The revision of car and van CO2 standards legislation is a critical part of the Commission’s Fit for 55 package and aims to put the industry, which accounts for a fifth of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions, on track to meet the EU’s long-term 2050 climate targets.

But industry and MEPs from some carmaking countries are pushing for a stay of execution for combustion engines, arguing that’s needed to keep plug-in hybrid models alive.

The fight is over 10 percentage points.

On Wednesday, lawmakers can either vote with the European Commission — and the Parliament’s agreed draft report from the environment committee — that mandates all new cars and vans sold from 2035 must be zero emissions. Or they can support a counter proposal from the center-right European People’s Party to amend that reduction down to 90 percent with no fixed phaseout date.

In a chamber of 705 deputies, officials agree the winning margin is likely to be no more than 15 votes.

Lobbyists are out in force.

“Going against 2035 is just simply not compatible with the climate target we have for Europe,” said Alex Keynes, manager for clean vehicles at Transport & Environment, an NGO. “Phasing out combustion engine cars and vans is a historic opportunity to end our oil dependence and make us safer from despots and climate change.”

Those on the other side of the debate say a full phaseout will stymie Europe’s largest industry by effectively mandating electric vehicles.

“Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket when setting new rules for clean cars,” said Jens Gieseke, the German conservative MEP spearheading efforts to cut the 2035 mandate to 90 percent. “We have to deliver on emission reductions while ensuring that the economy can manage the social transition.”

He also argued that it makes no sense to force automakers to expand EV sales if the electricity that drivers will use to charge car batteries isn’t clean.

Backing a total emissions phaseout by 2035 without introducing a new credit system for synthetic fuels or changing how carmaker emissions are calculated to allow for more than just EVs, would mean “limiting consumer choice, stifling innovation and losing our competitive edge,” said Sigrid de Vries, chief lobbyist with the European Association of Automotive Suppliers.

“There is more than a one-size-fits-all approach to reaching climate neutrality for road transport,” she argued.

Lining up

On paper, the vote is a clean split between the Socialists & Democrats, Renew Europe and the Greens — which support a 2035 end date — against mostly right-wing parties backing 90 percent.

In reality, it’s far more complicated.

MEPs from Germany’s Free Democrats, for example, who are part of Renew Europe, support 90 percent even though their party is part of a German government that backs the 2035 phaseout. There are also dissenters within the French delegation who fear job losses at Renault.

The question of jobs is critical for carmaking Central European countries, prompting lawmakers from the Czech Republic and Romania to side with Gieseke.

Polish MEPs with the ruling nationalist coalition also face a stark choice. While the government in Warsaw backs a full phaseout by 2035, their own European Conservatives and Reformists group supports 90 percent.

The clash of climate versus jobs dominated Tuesday’s plenary debate.

“Let’s not listen to the lobbyists from the fuel industry and carmakers who keep emailing you, don’t give in folks,” said Karima Delli, a French Green MEP. “We will stand with workers so that factories are not closed down.”

But Gieseke warned that ending the sale of combustion engine cars would put some 500,000 jobs at risk.

The outcome of the car CO2 debate will also set the tone for revised emission standards for trucks, which the Commission is expected to publish later this year.

“If we fail on cars, we will obviously fail on trucks,” said Pascal Canfin, the French liberal MEP who chairs the environment committee. “For the whole road transport sector we would give in on climate neutrality.”

This article has been updated to clarify Sigrid de Vries’ position.

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