New Czech government says 2035 ban on combustion engines “unacceptable”

The new Czech cabinet, led by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, has made it clear that it plans to effect change in many areas of government. However, one area in which the new administration will stay firmly on course is energy policy. The new prime minister said on Sunday that the proposed EU ban on new vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2035 is unacceptable and the Czech Republic would seek allies in Europe to change it.

The EU’s ambitious Green Deal with its ban on new vehicles with internal combustion engines, including hybrids, by 2035, would hit the Czech economy particularly hard. The country, which is home to Volkswagen Group's Skoda brand, depends on the auto industry for more than a quarter of its industrial output and the car production sector employs almost 700,000 people directly and indirectly.

Petr Fiala | Photo: Michaela Říhová,  ČTK

Prime Minister Fiala argued that in addition to damaging the car industry and the country’s competitiveness the enforced switch to electric mobility would damage end-users, because the majority of Czechs could simply not afford to make the switch by the set target date.

“This would present an existential threat to many people for whom a car is not a luxury but a basic necessity which is essential to their everyday life; they need it for their work, to get to work, or simply to visit family and friends.”

While the new cabinet sees the transition to clean energy sources as inevitable in the long run, it is against enforcing it before the member states are prepared to handle the change. Deputy Prime Minister Vít Rakušan stressed that the transition should not impoverish member states.

“Setting a firm deadline at this point seems unnecessary. The market will also play a role in making the transition happen. But right now for most people in this country electric powered vehicles are a luxury.”

The car industry in the Czech Republic involves both direct manufacture of cars in Skoda plants and the production of spare parts in the Toyota and Hyundai factories. At present, the production is very focused on internal combustion engines and while theoretically, the plants could continue producing  cars for export to countries outside the EU, Volkswagen Group would most likely move them further east.

Photo: Ruben de Rijcke,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

As for the plants producing spare parts, there is a risk that these companies too would curb or shut down operations, because electric cars have fewer parts. While the Czech industry could partially compensate for this decline in the inevitable boom in the battery technology sector, that too would require time.

The Czech prime minister said his government would fight to get the Green Deal revised and would seek allies in the EU to boost its position. The issue is certain to be one of the top priorities when the country assumes the EU's rotating presidency in the second half of 2022 and is likely to intensify cooperation within the Visegrad Group states which have a similar position on the Green Deal. In addition to opposing the 2035 ban on combustion engines, they want nuclear power to be an accepted part of the EU’s future energy mix.