The new Czech government is already on a collision course with Brussels

The EU’s proposal to ban the sale of combustion-engine vehicles after 2035 is unacceptable, said the new Czech Prime Minister.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 20.12.2021 11:50 (updated on 20.12.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

Since the general election on October 8-9, much has been made of the pro-EU leanings of the new five-party Czech coalition government. With the handover of power finally taking place last Friday, many expected a new era of warmer relations with Brussels to begin.

Yet new Prime Minister Petr Fiala has already fired a warning shot across the bows of the EU in relation to Brussels’ plans for emissions reduction, describing the European Commission’s proposal to ban the production and sale of combustion-engine vehicles from 2035 as “unacceptable.”

Fiala’s strong words appear to dispel hopes which some may have held that the Czech Republic would become a compliant EU partner following the departure of Andrej Babiš. The government may have changed, but the basic facts of the Czech Republic’s dependency on the automotive industry remain the same, so Fiala cannot accept a dramatic shift in the nature of car production without challenge.

“The proposal to ban cars with internal combustion engines would endanger the livelihood of the many people in our country who do not use a passenger car as a luxury, or for entertainment,” Fiala warned.

New Transport Minister Martin Kupka meanwhile told Hospodářské noviny that he considers the idea of banning combustion engine vehicles to be “nonsense.”

It appears increasingly likely that the new Czech government will follow in the footsteps of Babiš’s regime in pitting Czech economic interests against EU attempts to cut emissions. Last week, in his last act as PM, Babiš urged the EU to allow states to use more fossil fuels to fix the current energy supply crisis, while arguing for the inclusion of nuclear energy as a recognized “green” energy source at the EU level.

Fiala has supported Babiš’s position on nuclear energy, noting that if nuclear is not further developed, the Czech Republic will not be able to produce enough energy at reasonable prices. And with the Czech Republic’s renewable energy sector remaining underdeveloped compared to other EU member states, tougher EU restrictions on the use of fossil fuels are likely to hit the Czech economy particularly hard.

In this context, Fiala said the EU’s Green Deal must not impoverish the bloc’s citizens and must be beneficial for the Czech Republic.

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The new government’s tough stance on the EU’s climate proposals underlines the fact that Czech objections have not arisen from the whim of Andrej Babiš, but from legitimate concerns about the impact which proposed changes could have on the Czech economy. From banning combustion engine vehicles to phasing out fossil fuels, Brussels can therefore expect continued opposition from Prague in the next four years.

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