The end of the fossil fuel car is on the EU agenda

A ban on fossil-fuelled cars is now on the EU agenda, following an informal debate by environment ministers that showed significant support for the idea. No decision was ever going to be taken so close to the end of the current European Commission’s mandate, but it will be a live issue for the incoming vice-president responsible for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans. The debate followed a proposal by Denmark that EU members should be free to ban sales of oil-fuelled cars from 2030 or else have an EU-wide strategy to phase out such fossil-run cars.

The rapid growth of electric vehicles and renewable sources of energy with which to charge up e-vehicle batteries has meant that a phase-out of the internal combustion engine is now in sight. The Netherlands, Norway, France, the UK, Sweden, Ireland and others have already announced plans for such a phase-out between 2025 and 2040. Cities across Europe are also keen to wean themselves off polluting cars, with London, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels all wanting to ban conventional cars in 2030-2035.

At EU level, the current legislation forcing minimum levels of CO2 emissions has driven down fuel consumption and spurred the introduction of electric vehicles, which are expected to reach a million sales in 2020 alone. But  the question now arises whether the same EU legislation can be used to ban new cars that run on petrol and diesel after a certain date. The EU rules are currently not clear whether individual states can ban sales of oil-fuelled cars.

Last year, Denmark announced plans for a blank country-wide end to sales of petrol and diesel cars in 2030, but it had to put its scheme on hold because it conflicted with EU rules. Now it is proposing an EU-wide discussion, in the hope that it will lead to an EU-wide position on phasing out the internal combustion engine by 2040. 

Meeting early last month to discuss Denmark’s plan, eight EU environment ministers said their countries were broadly in favour. Among them, Spain is committed to only selling zero-emission vehicles from 2040 but wants help with the transition, France wants a roadmap to phase out conventional cars, while Sweden said it would phase out fossil-fuelled cars after 2030.

Five countries, all from central and eastern Europe, which provide massive markets for used cars from western Europe, were strongly against a phase-out date. They are Latvia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Other countries were neither in favour or against, but many stressed the need to deal with the problem of second-hand diesel cars, many of which have high levels of polluting emissions.

T&E’s clean vehicles director, Julia Poliscanova, said: ‘The debate showed that the majority of the largest vehicle markets in Europe want to phase out cars running on fossil fuels in order to deal with the climate emergency. The EU rules should not be in the way of climate action or ambition. It is time for an EU-wide commitment to have only zero-emission vehicles after 2035. 

‘Instead of prolonging the inevitable, the EU should should start preparing for the transition and ensuring no one is left behind and everyone benefits. This must be Frans Timmermans’ mission if he is to turn the EU Green Deal from a dream into reality.’