Prague, Czech Republic: EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans got the first taste of tough talks ahead as he presented the EU’s new green package in the car-making, the coal-burning Czech Republic on Friday.
Timmermans, European Commission vice-chairman in charge of the Green Deal, presented a plan Wednesday to ban the sales of new petrol-driven cars as of 2035, alongside a package of other green initiatives.
Timmermans met Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and lawmakers in Prague on Friday, his first visit abroad since unveiling the plan criticized by industrial lobbies.
“I can say with good confidence that we don’t agree yet but at some point, we’ll probably get there,” Timmermans told reporters in Prague.
The Czech economy is heavily dependent on car production and the manufacturing industry in general, as well as on nuclear and coal-fired power stations.
Fossil fuels made more than half of the country’s energy mix in 2020, according to official data, while nuclear energy contributed 40 percent.
This is the legacy of a Communist rule over former Czechoslovakia in 1948-1989, similar to other eastern European EU members including coal-burning powerhouse Poland.
Babis, a populist politician, and food, chemicals, and media tycoon, said before meeting Timmermans that the EU plan contained “striking ideas”.
“It’s a strange idea, to stop producing and selling fossil-fuel cars after 2035,” Babis told the Czech news agency CTK.
His country is home to three car plants — Volkswagen’s unit Skoda Auto, Hyundai, and Toyota-Peugeot Citroen — that makeup one-fifth of the Czech industrial output.
“The proposal is much more radical and we are afraid that it would have a considerable negative impact on our industry and our people’s jobs,” Babis added.
But Timmermans insisted he wanted “Czechia to be a part of that”.
“If it can change its energy mix, if it can modernize its industry, if it can turn its economy into a circular economy, (it) could be an example to many,” he said.
“Many of the manufacturers operating in the Czech Republic have already committed to electrifying their fleet so I think we need to work on this together,” added Timmermans.
“To be sceptical is always a good attitude and I hope I can take that skepticism away.”