The first regular EU summit of the year is in danger of being overshadowed by the dispute over the German blockade of the planned ban on new cars with internal combustion engines. Until Wednesday evening, it did not look as if the conflict over climate protection rules could be resolved by the start of the meeting of heads of state and government on Thursday (11:30 a.m.) as originally planned. Therefore, the dispute should play a role, at least on the sidelines of the summit. It could be uncomfortable for Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD).

In the past few days, behind the scenes, a number of EU partners have expressed incomprehension and annoyance that the federal government had prevented the final decision at the beginning of March. Negotiators from the European Parliament and the EU states had actually agreed in October that from 2035 only zero-emission new cars may be registered in the EU.

However, the federal government made additional demands at the beginning of March. The FDP in particular is urging that new cars with combustion engines that fill up with climate-neutral e-fuels should still be allowed to be registered after 2035. This refers to artificial fuels produced with green electricity. The Federal Ministry of Transport and the EU Commission are working on a solution, but have not yet been able to reach an agreement.

Wissing wants to take his time

Minister of State for Europe Anna Lührmann (Greens) said on Tuesday that she assumed that the talks would be concluded by the summit. Transport Minister Volker Wissing, on the other hand, dampened hopes of a quick agreement. “We’re talking about regulation for the year 2035. I don’t understand why you shouldn’t be able to take the time to take a closer look at things now,” said the FDP politician to the “Augsburger Allgemeine” (Thursday).

Officially, on the first of the two summit days, completely different topics are on the agenda of the meeting between Chancellor Scholz and his colleagues: support for Ukraine, an exchange with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and consultations on the competitiveness of the European economy.

The Ukraine war – support as long as necessary

For more than a year, Russia’s war against Ukraine has been a top issue at every EU summit. This will not be any different at this top meeting. The heads of state and government want to discuss how military and economic support for Ukraine can be further expanded.

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj is to be connected to the deliberations via video conference. A draft of the meeting’s final declaration read: “The European Union stands firmly and unreservedly with Ukraine and will continue to provide strong political, economic, military, financial and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and its people for as long as it is needed. “

Europe’s economy in global competition

Geopolitical tensions, high energy prices, disrupted supply chains and a shortage of skilled workers have affected companies in Germany and Europe in recent years. There is also pressure from China or the USA, for example, which have recently launched large subsidy programs for their economy. Ursula von der Leyen’s EU Commission countered last week with two proposals:

On the one hand, approval procedures for strategically important branches of industry such as renewable energies are to be accelerated. On the other hand, the authority wants to set production targets for the industry for particularly important raw materials. The main focus is on raw materials that Europe needs for the green transition – for example for the construction of electric cars and wind turbines. So far, the EU has been dependent on other countries such as China for many important raw materials.

The federal government also hopes that the EU summit will send out a positive signal for the speedy conclusion of new free trade agreements. Above all, the project with the South American confederation of states Mercosur is still highly controversial. Critics in countries like France and Austria fear that European farmers could be forced into a merciless price war while at the same time fueling rainforest and environmental destruction in the Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.