Czech leader demands big changes to EU green deal over cars

The Czech Republic will demand major changes to the European Union's plan to cut carbon emissions because the current proposal would damage its key automotive industry, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.

A proposed ban on combustion engines by 2035 is "nonsense" and the leaders of member states will have a difficult debate about the climate package, Babis said in an online debate with opposition leaders before elections in October 2021.

"I am convinced that it needs to be significantly changed," Babis said. "It's destroying car producers, and we are against this proposal. The next government will have to deal with it because we cannot dictate to people what kind of cars they should buy."

The proposal to ban combustion-engine cars next decade is part of the ambitious climate plan the EU rolled out in June to transform every corner of its economy. Now years of tough negotiations are expected before the bloc's 27 members can turn the plan into reality.

The fight over electric vehicles has become a worry for the country of 10.7m, where auto production makes up for more than a quarter of industrial output and employs almost 700,000 people directly and indirectly. The nation is home to Volkswagen Group's Skoda brand, which has two car factories in the country. Toyota and Hyundai also build cars in the Czech Republic.

It's not the first time that Babis, a media, agriculture and chemicals mogul, has voiced concern over the EU's carbon-reduction goals.

He has argued that it will threaten the competitiveness of the Czech Republic's highly industrialised and heavily coal-using economy and has vowed to make the car industry issue a priority after it assumes the EU's rotating presidency in the second half of 2022.

Babis's ANO party has made the issue central to its campaign before 8-9 October elections. ANO leads opinion polls, having rebounded after its popularity plunged when the Czech Republic suffered one of the world's most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks as a portion of the population earlier in 2021.

The Czech premier also said that carbon credits should have fixed pricing and should not be traded as commodity on markets.