This measure, proposed by the European executive in July 2021, remains to be discussed with MEPs.

It would mean the de facto cessation of sales of petrol and diesel cars and light commercial vehicles in the European Union from 2035, as well as hybrids (petrol-electric). This should contribute to achieving the continent’s climate goals, in particular carbon neutrality by 2050.

At the request of a few countries, including Germany and Italy, the Twenty-Seven have however agreed to consider a possible green light in the future for alternative technologies such as synthetic fuels (e-fuels) or hybrid engines rechargeable if these make it possible to achieve the objective of completely eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

European environment ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, also approved a five-year extension of the exemption from CO2 obligations granted to “niche” manufacturers or those producing fewer than 10,000 vehicles per year, up to end of 2035. This clause, sometimes called the “Ferrari amendment”, will particularly benefit luxury brands.

These measures will now have to be negotiated with MEPs, who this month also determined their position on the Commission’s proposal.

“This is a big challenge for our automotive industry,” acknowledged French Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting.

But she said it was a “necessity” in the face of competition from China and the United States which has bet heavily on electric vehicles seen as the future of the industry.

These “upstream” decisions will “allow a planned and accompanied transition”, added the minister.

– Insufficient charging infrastructure –

The European automotive industry, which is already investing heavily in electrification, however fears the social impact of too rapid a transition.

“The overwhelming majority of car manufacturers have opted for electric cars,” said Commission Vice-President for the Green Pact, Frans Timmermans, at a press conference.

He nevertheless recalled the openness of the European executive to other technologies.

“We are technologically neutral. What we want are zero-emission cars,” he explained. “Right now e-fuels don’t seem like a realistic solution, but if manufacturers can prove otherwise in the future, we’ll be open.”

Synthetic fuel technology, currently under development, consists in producing fuel from CO2 resulting in particular from industrial activities using low-carbon electricity, in a circular economy approach.

The automotive sector, like the oil industry, has great hopes in these new fuels which would make it possible to prolong the use of internal combustion engines, which are today threatened by the emergence of 100% electric vehicles.

But the use of this technology in the automobile is disputed by environmental NGOs who consider it both very expensive and energy-intensive. They also denounce engines emitting as much nitrogen oxide (NOx) as their fossil fuel equivalents.

The car, the main mode of transport for Europeans, represents a little less than 15% of total CO2 emissions in the EU, one of the main gases responsible for global warming.

To respond to manufacturers worried about insufficient consumer demand for 100% electric, the Commission has recommended the strong development of charging stations.

“Along the main roads in Europe, there must be charging points every 60 kilometers,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asked last year.

Manufacturers regularly complain about the inadequacy of these infrastructures, particularly in the countries of southern and eastern Europe.