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‘We cannot go back on deals,’ Roberta Metsola says amid German standoff over e-fuels

The European Union cannot renege on agreements that have already been settled and disregard well-establish rules of procedure, Roberta Metsola has warned in the midst of an ongoing standoff between Berlin and Brussels over the issue of combustion engines and e-fuels.

“We cannot go back on deals because this is ultimately about trust between co-legislators and the credibility of the legislative process,” the European Parliament president said on Thursday, after taking part in a summit of EU leaders.

“If we are asked or tasked by our citizens to legislate in a specific area, to take decisions in a specific area, we need to be prepared to do that. And once we do that, then we need to deliver.”

Germany blocked earlier this month the final approval of a regulation designed to impose a 100% reduction in CO2 emissions on cars and vans sold across the bloc after 2035.

The proposed law targets emissions detected at the exhaust pipeline, which means it will effectively ban new sales of diesel and petrol cars after the cut-off date.

Considered one of the key pieces of the European Green Deal, the law has been divisive since its inception but managed to survive negotiations between the EU Council and the European Parliament, a process known as “trilogues” in Brussels parlay because they also involve the European Commission, the institute that initiates and drafts legislation.

“When you arrive at a trilogue, it will be the result or the culmination of years of negotiations, from the very moment that a Commission proposal starts to be even thought of to when it arrives at the co-legislators’ desk after loads of negotiations coming together to find a solution,” Metsola said on Thursday.

Talks around the CO2 regulation were hard-fought but kept intact the 2035 cut-off date, which the Commission considers essential to achieve climate neutrality by mid-century.

MEPs approved the compromise text last month and then passed the buck to member states, who were expected to respect the deal and rubberstamp the text without major fuss.

But at the very last minute, Germany, which hosts a world-class automotive industry, came out against the law and demanded an exemption for e-fuels, an emerging technology that combines hydrogen and CO2 to produce synthetic fuels.

E-fuels can be poured into existing cars, therefore ensuring the survival of the combustion engine after the 2035 deadline.

The German hold-out shocked officials and diplomats in Brussels, who saw it as a betrayal of the long-standing rules of procedure. Numerous MEPs and several member states, such as France, Spain and the Netherlands, have said the text is closed and would not be reopened.

The impasse prompted a rare intervention by Roberta Metsola, who earlier this week sent a letter to Sweden, the country that currently presides over the EU Council presidency.

The letter, Metsola explained on Thursday, did not single out any specific country or legislative file but stressed the importance of “legislative predictability.”

“The Green Deal is a fundamental pillar of our mandate,” Metsola told reporters.

“Anything that will seek to diminish or deter from the legislative predictability that we need, not only as a parliament but as a European Union and as a co-legislator is something that we will always caution against.”

Asked if Germany’s attitude could set a dangerous precedent and undermine the spirit of negotiations, Metsolsa said that “as a lawyer” she would always have trust in trilogues.

“If this (were) to happen again, this letter will be sent again but I hope it doesn’t need to come to that,” Metsola added.

Earlier on Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said talks between the Ministry of Transport, which is controlled by the business-friendly FDP party, and the European Commission were on the “right path.”

Scholz insisted that, during negotiations, the Commission had given assurances that e-fuels would be spared from the 2035 deadline.

“It is always right to keep your promises,” Scholz said.

The EU’s executive, however, has challenged this view and says the legislation has been agreed upon. Current discussions focus on how to interpret the law, rather than how to amend it.

But even if Germany’s demands are satisfied, it is unclear if the deadlock will be overcome, as the number of countries who remain opposed to the 2035 ban continues to grow.

Italy, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic are among those considered most likely to resist the proposed ban, although officials insist the alliance is not clear-cut.

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