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By JAKOB HANKE VELA
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BRETON PLANS ‘REVIEW’ OF COMBUSTION ENGINE BAN: A week after EU lawmakers decided to ban combustion engine cars from 2035, European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton is sounding the alarm bells.
In an interview with Playbook, Breton warned of the “gigantic disruption” the ban will bring to one of the EU’s core industries. The switch from gasoline and diesel to electricity will have so many implications for upstream and downstream companies, the EU cannot afford to fail, Breton said. Should there be hiccups in the process, the EU will need to review its phase-out date, the commissioner warned — “without any taboos.”
Emergency brake in 2026: Given the high stakes, Breton said he insisted on an emergency brake — a review clause to be activated in 2026, which will allow the 2035 phase-out date to be pushed back, if necessary. “I said that it was very important that we have a review clause as soon as possible, so that we have the time to react if it is necessary — because evidently, we are talking about a gigantic changeover of an entire industrial sector, in the largest sense.”
Taking credit: “All these questions need to be studied,” Breton told me. “So I am happy that the co-legislators followed my suggestion and decided on a review clause for 2026.”
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What’s at stake: Some “600,000 jobs will be destroyed” in the process of switching from combustion engine to electric cars, Breton said. “We are not just talking about the big car manufacturers — who will surely manage — but we are talking about the entire ecosystem and the production of electricity.”
It’s elementary: To produce all those electric cars to replace traditional ones, “we will need 15 times more lithium by 2030, four times more cobalt, four times more graphite, three times more nickel,” Breton said. “So we will have an enormous consumption of raw materials, and we need to study all this.”
And there’s more: “If we want all cars to be electric, we will need 150GW more electricity production per year — that means 20 to 25 percent more electricity than we produce today in Europe,” Breton continued. “So we will have to massively increase electricity production. But it will also have to be carbon-free electricity — if we do it with coal or gas it makes no sense.”
… and more: “By 2030 we want 30 million electric vehicles on Europe’s roads. That means we need around 7 million charging stations. But today we only have 350,000, of which 70 percent are in only three countries — France, Germany and the Netherlands,” Breton added.
Cold shower: Is Breton suggesting the 2035 date is unrealistic? The commissioner said he sees his job as “making sure that we have all the means to achieve this” transformation. Breton insisted he wants the transformation to succeed, and that he “completely agree[s] with this ambition” — but insists that cold realism is needed to achieve it. That includes letting go of some idealism and instead focusing on “key KPIs” — from the roll-out of charging stations across the EU, to the ramp-up of raw material production.
So what are these key performance indicators? “My team will develop those KPIs in the coming weeks, together with stakeholders,” Breton said coyly. And again, should the Commission and stakeholders realize they aren’t on track to meet the deadline, “we should approach that review date in 2026 with no taboos” — including the possibility of postponing the 2035 combustion engine phase-out date.
Electric cars are dirty too: Next week, the Commission will unveil its new emission standard, Euro7. Breton said it’s a reminder that electric cars must also become cleaner. “There are additional emissions, which are very important — those from tires and brakes, which emit particles that are very damaging to health. So even after 2035, when we will no longer sell combustion-engine cars, there will be emissions.”
Particle pain: “Electric vehicles are around 40 percent heavier than traditional ones, because of the batteries,” Breton said. “So they emit much more particles from brakes and tires than combustion cars.” Breton added that an estimated 70,000 people die prematurely each year because of these particles.
Global issue: The EU, as a bloc of some 450 million people, isn’t an island, Breton indicated. Just because Europeans will only be able to buy electric cars, that doesn’t mean that “the rest of the world, meaning 7 billion people … will not continue using combustion vehicles for many decades.” Breton pointed in particular to Africa, where many countries have barely stable electrical grids and are many decades away from producing enough electricity to power their vehicle fleets.
The EU should not give up those markets, just because it has decided to phase out combustion engines at home, Breton insisted. On the contrary, EU combustion engines will be cleaner than the alternatives in many cases, so carmakers should continue exporting them to the world: “I encourage EU companies to continue producing combustion engines — those that wish to do so,” he said.
Reality check: Just over one in 10 vehicles sold in the last quarter in Europe were electric — a big increase compared to previous years, but still a long way to go to reach the 2035 goal.
In short: Breton’s warning about the future of one of Europe’s most lucrative industries means he’s now the carmakers’ closest thing to a friend in Brussels.
MELONI ❤️ EUROPE — OR AT LEAST ITS CASH: Italy’s new, far-right prime minister played nice on her first trip to Brussels Thursday— chatting amiably and smiling her way through a day of meetings with the leaders of a European Union she demonized on her way to victory. But the question is how long the Euroskeptic’s truce with Brussels will last, write Hannah Roberts, Jacopo Barigazzi and Suzanne Lynch.
Not rocking the boat: Meloni claimed to have found “ears that were willing to listen,” calling the talks “frank and positive.” Her goal, she said, was to meet in person and dispel preconceptions about her. Meloni’s first stop on Thursday was an informal lunch at the Italian ambassador’s residence with EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni — a former Italian prime minister himself. “She was mainly in a listening mood,” said one EU official. “The climate was very serene.”
Meeting the big wigs: Then, Meloni made the rounds with the presidents of the EU’s main institutions: the Parliament’s Roberta Metsola, the Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen and the Council’s Charles Michel. Meloni got a particularly warm reception from Metsola, with the two on a first-name basis and speaking mostly in Italian. Metsola invited Meloni to address the European Parliament and said they were “totally aligned on Ukraine” — a major concern given the Russia-friendly streak running through Italy’s far right.
Battles ahead: But there were signs Meloni will remain a combative leader on EU issues. Speaking after the meetings, Meloni warned that Rome would “look out for its national interests in the EU” and listed several contentious issues on which she made Italy’s case. She touched on the pandemic recovery funds, stressing her determination to adapt the plan given her country’s “new priorities” — soaring energy prices, the war in Ukraine and rising migration.
NO MONEY, MO’ PROBLEMS: Europe is moving ahead with plans to tax imports according to their carbon content, but a fight is brewing over how to finance the system in the initial phase over the coming years, when it won’t generate revenue.
Brussels estimates the annual costs will be €30 million — and warns it has nothing left in the budget to cover that. EU ambassadors meeting today will discuss a Commission proposal to tap revenues from the EU’s internal emissions trading system — but several central and northern EU countries are opposed to that plan, diplomats told Playbook, warning of a severe backlash.
Reminder: The idea is to mirror the EU’s existing emissions trading system and apply it to foreign producers who sell into the EU (and are currently exempt). The name of the scheme is the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism — or CBAM.
Distortion: Right now, EU producers of steel, for example, need to hand in carbon allowances for every ton of CO2 they emit, but producers outside the EU don’t. As the prices for such allowances increase, the obvious risk is that companies will simply offshore their production — undermining the entire system and hurting the Continent’s economy.
The plan is to grant CBAM certificates to importers for free during an initial phase to test the new system without disrupting trade flows. That way, the EU can be ready to charge imports once EU producers also have to buy more of their emission allowances (currently they still receive many gratis).
But here’s the catch: All this means that the EU is building a costly system that won’t generate any money in the first years of its existence. “During the transitional period … no CBAM revenue will be available to finance the additional IT and HR costs,” the Commission warned in a non-paper obtained by Playbook. Given a very tight budget, “it will be impossible to cover the approximately €30 million annually needed in the transition period,” the Commission experts warn.
Beware of precedents: The Commission experts propose “cross-financing via the EU ETS,” according to the paper — in other words, tapping the revenues from the EU’s already existing emissions trading system to finance the new scheme for imports. “There’s a broadly shared fear among countries that this gateway drug would lead to a habit of ETS abuse,” one diplomat warned, adding that the plan “creates a precedent to tap into ETS every time the Commission has issues covering its overhead costs.”
CEO BONUSES ENCOURAGE EMISSIONS: Executives at oil and gas firms still have direct financial incentives to boost exploration and production, putting them at odds with company-wide carbon neutrality pledges, warns a new Carbon Tracker report out today.
Drill, baby, drill! “This is really a governance issue for investors, who should really be holding companies to account by saying, ‘Well hey, you’ve told us this is your strategy — back it up with appropriate remuneration incentives,’” said the report’s co-author Mike Coffin. “Otherwise there’s an inconsistency … you’re telling shareholders one thing that’s disclosed in your [climate] strategy, but you’re doing something different.”
FRENCH GAS BOSS SAYS COMMISSION’S SLOW PACE PUTS INTERNAL MARKET AT RISK: Brussels has been dragging its feet for too long on energy price interventions and risks destroying the single market, according to the chief of the French gas association AFG, the group that brings together the country’s major gas operators including TotalEnergies, Engie and EDF. EU leaders “have not really understood the magnitude of the situation,” AFG’s President Jean-Marc Leroy told my Paris colleague Giorgio Leali.
Too little, too late: Months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, “we still don’t have the outline of an answer other than to say that the next meeting, like all the previous ones, is important,” Leroy said. An intervention on prices “was urgent, now it’s almost too late,” he said. EU countries are set to adopt an emergency package to bring gas prices down at the end of this month.
Fragmentation: Germany’s €200 billion package reheated tensions between countries over what some saw as an undermining of the level playing field between European businesses. Leroy said the danger of a subsidy race between EU countries is real and the lack of coordination on energy measures is endangering the EU’s internal market. “Faced with this kind of negligence, each country takes its own measures,” he said. “As important decisions have not been taken, the risk today is to destroy not only the energy market, but also the European market.”
MEPS IN ATHENS: The members of the European Parliament’s PEGA committee (set up to investigate mobile phone hacks by EU governments) are concluding a visit to Athens today, where they have been trying to shed light on the use of spyware against Greek journalists and politicians.
Confronting Athens: The MEPs met with State Minister George Gerapetritis and asked him why the government had placed the leader of the opposition PASOK party, their fellow MEP Nikos Androulakis, under state surveillance — and why the data was deleted, my colleague Nektaria Stamouli reports from Athens.
Background: The Greek government has had to admit to wiretapping the opposition leader (after Greece’s telecommunications regulator found an official order for the wiretap). But Athens denies having ever used illegal spyware to hack phones — even though independent researchers found traces of such spyware on devices belonging to Greek journalists and politicians. The visiting MEPs asked Gerapetritis whether the Greek government had attempted to find out where the illicit spyware came from.
Greek readout: According to government officials, Gerapetritis had a “productive” meeting with the MEPs and informed them of the government’s intention to proceed this month with legislation that would effectively impose a universal ban on the purchase and use of malicious software within Greece.
The saga so far: The spy scandal started to unravel in the summer when Androulakis discovered an attempted Predator tap on his phone. In August, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government acknowledged Androulakis had been under state surveillance (though not with Predator) — a move it called legal but wrong. Since then, the saga has morphed into an espionage thriller that involved spyware being planted on the phones of an ever-expanding network of politicians and journalists.
International outcry: There were new revelations on Thursday about spyware allegedly found on a journalist’s phone. Last week, Tasos Telloglou published an article in which he also claimed he and at least three other Greek reporters had been followed and physically surveilled between May and August 2022. Reporters without Borders published a report urging the Greek government to urgently explain the reasons behind the alleged state monitoring and to spell out specific measures for better protection against arbitrary espionage.
**How are cities creating urban spaces while tackling air pollution, reducing their carbon footprint, and saving water? Learn more on the challenge of making urban spaces more livable and sustainable in the 3rd Chapter of our Living Cities Global Policy Lab “Sustainable Cities”, including a weekly newsletter out every Thursday. Subscribe now.**
SCHOLZ-XI MEETING: Overnight, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing (more on the controversial visit here). Xi noted the need for greater cooperation between China and Germany amid “times of change and turmoil,” according to state broadcaster CCTV, while Scholz told Xi that it was good both leaders were meeting in person during tense times, Reuters reports.
NO EVIDENCE OF RADIOACTIVE BOMB IN UKRAINE, SAYS UN WATCHDOG: The U.N.’s nuclear safety agency on Thursday said it did not find any evidence that Kyiv was building a so-called dirty bomb. Russia last month made unfounded allegations that Ukraine was building a bomb combining conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive materials. Kyiv rejected the claims; Western countries and NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned they were an attempt by Moscow to escalate the war, and a potential false flag.
WHAT’S WORRYING TEHRAN: Fear of the Iranian regime within the country is eroding, argues POLITICO’s Jamie Dettmer.
AI CONCERN: Activists are worried that companies, many from outside Europe, will play a key role in deciding the details of the EU’s planned rules for potentially dangerous artificial intelligence, report Clothilde Goujard and Gian Volpicelli.
US MIDTERMS AHEAD: With less than a week to go until the U.S. midterm elections on November 8, local groups in key battleground states are spreading conspiracy theories about alleged election fraud and calling on voters to take in-person action, my colleague Mark Scott reports.
Want more on the midterms? POLITICO’s Suzanne Lynch in Brussels and Ryan Heath in Washington discuss the landscape in this week’s EU Confidential podcast.
FRIDAY FEATURES: The Westminster Insider podcast is back today, with host Ailbhe Rea trying to uncover the real Rishi Sunak … And in this week’s Declassified humor column, Paul Dallison writes that politicians play a dangerous game by going on reality TV.
**To mark COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, POLITICO Pro’s Energy and Climate newsletter will be free for all from November 7 to 18, offering access to the hottest political takes and insight from the most important international gathering of the year. Sign up for exclusive access.**
Central European/Brussels time.
— G7 foreign ministers meet in Münster, Germany. High Representative Josep Borrell doorstep at 8:55 a.m. Watch.
— Commission President Ursula von der Leyen receives Prime Minister of Lithuania Ingrida Šimonytė … and Executive Director of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol.
— Commissioner Věra Jourová in Bratislava; meets Slovak PM Eduard Heger.
— Coreper I (9 a.m.; details) … and Coreper II (10 a.m.; details) meet in Brussels.
— EU-Western Balkans justice and home affairs ministerial forum in Tirana. Commissioner Didier Reynders to attend.
— European Parliament’s PEGA delegation concludes visit to Greece. Press conference at 10 a.m. Watch.
— ECB chief Christine Lagarde delivers lecture on monetary policy in the euro area. 10:30 a.m. Watch.
— NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg continues visit to Turkey; meets President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
STRIKES HIT BRUSSELS AIRPORT: Some 40 percent of next Wednesday’s departures from Brussels Zaventem have been scrapped due to industrial action by workers, VRT reports. “We are in consultation with our partners to cancel even more flights,” airport spokesperson Ihsane Chioua Lekhli said, the aim being to avoid chaos at terminals.
Yet more strikes: There are also strikes planned on Wednesday on Belgian public transport operated by De Lijn and on SNCB’s national rail services.
(NO) DAILY MUSK: EU policy professionals are trying to coordinate an exit from Twitter in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover, reports Samuel Stolton, with the Mastodon social media platform being mentioned as a replacement.
BIRTHDAYS: MEPs Traian Băsescu and Agnes Jongerius; FIGIEFA and ADPA’s Pierre Thibaudat; Finnish politician Matti Vanhanen; U.K. Board of Trade adviser and former Australian PM Tony Abbott.
Celebrating Saturday: MEP Caterina Chinnici; Former MEP Alexander Lambsdorff, now a member of the Bundestag; Former MEP Goffredo Bettini; MLex’s Lewis Crofts; La Croix’s Céline Schoen; Former Council of Europe Secretary-General and ex-Prime Minister of Norway Thorbjørn Jagland.
Celebrating Sunday: European Commissioner Janez Lenarčič; MEPs Nadine Morano and Michael Bloss; Former MEP Petr Mach; Chess Grandmaster Dana Reizniece-Ozola, Latvia’s former finance minister and POLITICO 28 alum; Chef Pierre Manshande; Teneo’s Alexandria Hicks; Bellona Europa’s Jonas Helseth; Laura Flessel-Colovic, former French sports minister and five-time Olympic medalist; Belgian Nobel Prize winner in physics François Englert.
THANKS to Giorgio Leali, America Hernández and our producer Giulia Poloni.
**A message from the European Commission (Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion): A future that’s green, fair and inclusive, where everyone gets the same chances ? That’s the future we want for Europe. Come to the #EUSocialForum: eusocialforum.eu/eu/begin and take part in the discussions on how to achieve this.**
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