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Will Germany ban, or be permitted to ban, petrol and diesel powered vehicles?

Editorial Staff

Der Spiegel, a German newspaper, has spotted a footnote in the activities of the German parliament. A vote in the upper chamber, the Bundesrat, was the venue for a statement that it wished to see a ban on new petrol and diesel powered cars by 2030. Will it and can it take effect? Read on for one of life's most wonderful ironies - and no, it's not the one about Germany inventing the internal combustion engine. Don't worry, DTM lovers: you are not about to be cast into the wilderness.

The vote was simply a motion, like those the USA passes which have no effect except to make a statement.

The wonderful irony of the motion is that if Germany wants to pass a law to give effect to the banning of the sale or import of new petrol or diesel vehicles, it would first have to leave the EU, because such a law would be in restraint of intra-community trade, which is not permitted under EU law. The idea of Angela Merkel and her cohort choosing Gexit is, simply, pants-pissing funny.

It's not the only place where such measures are being discussed: Norway intends to create disincentives to the purchase or import of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2025. Being outside the EU, the concept is feasible and, as electric vehicles become easier to recharge and have longer ranges, it may be that for many users such vehicles become practical. In London, for years, electric vehicles are exempt from tolls. But for the foreseeable future, there are no realistic prospects of rural communities being able to operate without petrol stations.

California has also discussed whether all new vehicles sold in the state after 2030 could be required to be zero-emission. Federal law in the USA does not have the same restrictions on state activity as that in the EU.

The German motion, it has to be noted, would not prevent the production of petrol and diesel vehicles and so it is only the home market of the German automotive giants that would be affected, unless there is a cascading effect across the world.

So, it's very unlikely to happen, at least within the timescales being discussed. But it is now a subject that is clearly under consideration in many places. If, for example, Beijing banned all non-zero-emission vehicles, it would have an immediate and very effective benefit for the huge population which suffers under near-constant pollution levels that are very unhealthy. Kuala Lumpur, like London sitting in a pollution-retaining bowl, would also see enormous benefits.

It is possible, then, that a more politically possible solution is to adopt London's road pricing scheme and heavily penalise polluting vehicles. Cities, within Europe, can do things countries cannot, and still facilitate rural and long-distance travel without the problems that are inherent in electric vehicles, especially for road haulage.