The World from Berlin: 'Gasoline Summit' Solves Nothing as Biofuel Chaos Continues

German politicians met Tuesday in a hastily arranged 'Gasoline Summit' to discuss public distrust over the introduction of fuels with higher concentrations of ethanol. Politicians pledged to better inform the public about which cars can use the new fuel, but German commentators and drivers remain wary.

The new biofuel containing 10 percent ethanol has been pushed at stations across Germany. Zoom
DPA

The new biofuel containing 10 percent ethanol has been pushed at stations across Germany.

The introduction of a new biofuel with 10 percent ethanol content continues to provoke controversy in Germany, where consumers are rejecting the fuel in the fear that it will damage their cars. Meanwhile, supplies of regular unleaded gasoline are running low at stations across the country.

On Tuesday, German politicians and industry leaders met in Berlin at a "Gasoline Summit" to discuss what to do about the growing controversy surrounding the fuel, which is known as E10. They stood behind their planned phase-in of the fuel, which was agreed to several years ago as part of a larger European Union effort to reduce CO2 emissions. The major development to come out of the summit was a commitment to provide information at the tanks about what cars can use the new fuel.

E10 is considered safe for approximately 90 percent of cars, but critics say that information on what kinds of vehicles it is suitable for has been limited and confusing. The fuel's introduction has also spawned protest from German environmentalists who argue it could lead to increased food shortages.

Greenpeace in Germany issued a statement after the Tuesday summit criticizing the meeting's results. "The best brochures don't change the fact that biofuels are damaging to the environment and their supplies lead to food shortages worldwide," Greenpeace expert Martin Hofstetter said.

The issue has been a political hot potato for Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), and especially for her ambitious Environment Minister, Norbert Röttgen, who was on a ski vacation when the crisis over the fuel's introduction broke.

Röttgen said Tuesday that the fuel was aimed at both environmental and climate protection, and he has heavily promoted it in recent days as a way for the country to achieve greater energy independence.

German commentators on Wednesday dove into the biofuel issue, widely criticizing the handling of the fuel's launch as being poorly thought out on all sides.

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The oil industry, Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen said from his ski vacation, should kindly not cause a communication chaos. But it didn't. The chaos was caused by politicians, and now they want to continue doing so. The politicians prescribed E10 for a country whose drivers could not tell from short descriptions if their cars could use the fuel."

"For example, in a guide from the auto industry, it says that all Volvos built since 1976 are suitable for E10, 'as long as maintenance instructions have been fulfilled.' But who knows what these instructions are, the repair shops are asking?"

"Or take the VW Golf: All of them are appropriate for the fuel except vehicles with a production date from April 5-22 and with the engine code AXW. Fantastic. Does anyone know the date their car was built or the engine code number?"

"The CDU is losing respect through the wrath of the drivers. We'll see what the voters in the car-friendly state of Baden-Württemberg have to say about that when they go to the polls on March 27."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The winner is Rainer Brüderle. With his 'Gasoline Summit,' the Economics Minister from the Free Democratic Party (FDP) was able to blame three of his colleagues from the Christian Democrats (CDU), namely Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen and Consumer Affairs Minister Ilse Aigner and Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). They are all at least as responsible for the E10 biofuel as Brüderle, but have done nothing. The three conservative politicians have simply ignored the fact that German drivers have been rebelling against E10."

"Brüderle is a politician who goes by instinct, and knows how to portray things in such a situation, because the 'Gasoline Summit' was nothing more than a big performance. It was already certain beforehand that nothing would come out of it ..."

"The loser is also clear: Norbert Röttgen. The Environment Minister is the leading figure responsible for E10, but remained on a ski vacation when the biofuel became a huge issue ..."

"The 'Gasoline Summit' shows again that for Röttgen it wouldn't be a demotion if he went back to North Rhine-Westphalia as opposition leader -- but instead would probably be his last chance in politics."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Almost everything that could have gone wrong with such a project did. The suppliers wanted to sit out the market launch, the automakers made their customers nervous with disinformation, the politicians sat by and did nothing and the consumers felt duped by all sides."

"The oil industry and the carmakers now have two options. Either they see the E10 Summit as the last warning sign, and finally put all of their energies behind the launch of the biofuel in order to prevent stricter regulations. Or, and this would be better, they admit that they failed, and they accept stronger limits from the federal government and the EU on CO2 emissions. In doing so, they would do both the consumers and the climate a huge favor."

The tabloid Bild Zeitung writes:

"After the big 'Biofuel Summit,' eyes are being rubbed in disbelief. Politicians and business leaders are satisfied. But everything is staying the same as it is now, only things are supposed to be explained a little better. What a farce!"

"No one wants to be responsible for the largest-ever gasoline chaos. This summit is proof of failure for everyone involved: the politicians who cooked up the biofuel madness and fully underestimated it as an issue; the oil companies who shrugged responsibility off onto the carmakers, and still cash in because uncertain consumers are buying more expensive super unleaded gasoline; and the carmakers who never clearly said which cars could use the new ethanol fuel, and which couldn't ..."

"The vast majority of people are still rejecting the new biofuel and are paying dearly for it at the tanks."

The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Close your eyes and go -- that appears to have been the motto at the 'Gasoline Summit.' Drivers will be enlightened to the point that they tank up. It would be laughable if the reluctant consumers were not already convinced of the beneficial qualities of the biofuel E10. Even if the fuel with 10 percent ethanol does not bring about environmental and climate advantages, the consumer can comfort himself with the brand new argument of the federal environment minister that E10 allows one to resist the dictator Gadhafi at the gas pump. Who wouldn't want that?"

"CDU politician Röttgen is the one who will go home the victor of the 'Gasoline Summit'. He prevailed in his view that the German driver simply needs assurance that his car can handle the biofuel. As a result, the car industry and gas stations will be obligated to provide some lists and brochures for clarity. What will not be changed is the debatable bioethanol strategy of the state supporting the use of land for producing fuel, which could have important consequences for rising food prices. The federal government is adhering to punishable guidelines for biofuel mixtures from the oil industry; the timeframe of the introduction will not be revisited."

-- Mary Beth Warner

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