‘Europe needs the internal combustion engine’ – EURACTIV.com
Rather than prescribing solutions like electrification to decarbonize road transport, policymakers should focus on creating an innovation framework that takes a technology-neutral approach, says MEP Barbara Thaler.
Barbara Thaler as an Austrian MEP from the Austrian People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei), affiliated to the centre-right EU EPP group. She is a member of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament.
The European Parliament has backed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, which supporters say is necessary to limit carbon emissions. The EPP, however, did not support this. Can you explain why?
For us, as EPPs, the principle of technological neutrality is the foundation of every policy. True sustainability requires not only measures to combat climate change, but also measures that preserve the competitiveness of the European economy and guarantee social balance.
It’s not enough, when the Green Deal is just green, it must also be a Deal. In this context, a Green Deal also needs green jobs. With a solemn focus on battery-electric mobility, we are missing these measures and the chance to build a European market and industry for renewable fuels; we are only shifting resource dependence even more to China.
There is no reason not to recognize sustainable biofuels and synthetic fuels as climate neutral. Europe needs the internal combustion engine. There is no need to ban if it can be powered in a climate-neutral way. Moreover, our goals are ambitious and to achieve them, we need the full range of options available.
What would you like to see regarding the next proposed CO2 emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles?
Here, too, I would like to see a technology-neutral approach. Which means, more exhaust measures. The vote on the credit system for cars and vans was close, so I hope that the Commission has taken note of this and will present a proposal which integrates the measurement of emissions throughout the life cycle, instead of a small piece in the whole chain.
Some have touted synthetic fuels as a way to make internal combustion engine vehicles carbon neutral, although critics say they are inefficient compared to electric vehicles. What is your position on synthetic fuels as a solution for road transport?
In my view, the policy should create a framework that allows innovation to flourish. Later, the market will decide which option will be the best, depending on the individual needs of people and sectors. In road transport, synthetic fuels, together with biofuels, will play a key role.
In addition, we need hydrogen as a seasonal electricity storage anyway. Refining it further towards synthetic fuels is the obvious thing to do. Especially since it would allow us Europeans to reduce our dependence on certain problematic suppliers.
After all, it doesn’t matter what type of vehicle or mode uses what. The atmosphere doesn’t care which mode saves how much CO2.
Oil prices have been extremely volatile since Russia invaded Ukraine. Some Member States have introduced subsidies to keep petrol prices low. Do you think governments should act or should the market set the price of petrol and diesel?
The market must be able to function autonomously within a given framework. Nevertheless, no system is flawless so some intervention from time to time is necessary. People need urgent support now; therefore, it is right for governments to respond appropriately and in a timely manner.
In the long term, we must exploit the strength of Europe, which has always been innovation and research. A big safeguard is the internal market and own resources, both need to be improved and this will help stabilize prices.
The proposed Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation aims for higher targets for recharging and refueling points. There have been criticisms that the timetable favored by the Council is too gradual. Do you think Member States should be more ambitious in terms of alternative fuel infrastructure?
This seems to be the normal setup these days. The Parliament is ambitious and the Council cautious. Make no mistake, these are two sides of the same coin.
In addition, the Council has its points, because building charging stations will not be enough. The transport network also needs to be upgraded, and the construction of new transport networks is extremely expensive and time-consuming. Then we also have to build the new renewable power plants, otherwise the whole switch to electricity makes little or no sense.
The clock is ticking, 2030 is already approaching. Therefore, I think we need to set goals that can be achieved. This goes beyond AFIR, it applies to many cases.
Many players in the commercial road sector have said that the lack of charging stations in Europe prevents them from choosing clean vehicles. Do you think the EU and Member States are doing enough to encourage the switch to clean trucks?
I fully support the goal of making our environment cleaner and that we must play our part to achieve the Paris goals. It’s the right thing to do; however, I don’t think we should legislate every square inch. It is the job of the market, of the customers, of the company to make their choice.
If a truck runs on biofuel, efuels, electricity or hydrogen, it doesn’t really matter and shouldn’t concern the legislator. Our main objective is to reduce CO2 emissions. The path to this goal should not be a one-way street.
If we want to keep Europe competitive, we need a regulatory environment that encourages competition for the best solutions. This creates technological progress. On the other hand, a single regulation does the exact opposite.
Are you in favor of adding commercial road vehicles to the EU emissions trading scheme? If the Council’s position to gradually build alternative fuel infrastructure prevails, should commercial road transport still be included in the ETS given that many operators will be reluctant to switch to clean vehicles due to the lack of terminals recharge?
In general, a market-based ETS is a good tool, if used in the right way. Applying it to commercial transport alone is not the right way at all. Carriers can simply pass on the costs and so there is literally no incentive for fuel producers to switch to alternatives.
The recent increases at the pump correspond to a CO2 price of €400 per tonne. As we have seen, nothing has changed – in the end, the consumer pays. So it’s just another CO2 tax, hitting those who can’t pass it on down the chain.
Operators will change when the conditions are right, when vehicles are available at reasonable prices and if the infrastructure is there. This may vary from case to case, from Member State to Member State, but it may also be a sign that we as legislators need to rethink our position biofuels and fuels.