Milan — Italy’s nationalist government is leading the backlash against EU plans to raise vehicle emissions limits, vowing to defend the auto industry in a country still wedded to the combustion engine. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right coalition, which took office last October, has tried and failed to block EU plans to ban the sale of new fossil fuel cars by 2035, which her predecessor Mario Draghi , had supported.
But this week the government shifted its fight to planned “Euro 7” standards for pollutants, joining seven other EU member states – including France and Poland – to demand that Brussels scrap limits that will take effect in July 2025. .
“Italy is showing the way, our positions are increasingly widely shared,” said Business Minister Adolfo Urso, an ardent supporter of domestic industry in the face of what he called an “ideological view” of climate change.
The EU plan “is clearly wrong and not even useful from an environmental point of view,” added transport minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, which shares power with the post-fascist Italian Brothers of Meloni. .
Salvini led the failed prosecution of the ban on internal combustion engines, labeling it “madness” that would “destroy thousands of jobs for Italian workers” while benefiting China, leader in electric vehicles.
Federico Spadini of Greenpeace Italy lamented that “environmental and climate issues are always relegated to the background”, blaming a “strong industrial lobby in Italy” on the automotive and energy sectors.
“None of the governments in recent years have risen to the environmental challenge,” he told AFP.
“Unfortunately, Italy is not known in Europe as a climate champion. And it is clear that with Meloni’s government the situation has worsened,” he said.
“Traditional Engine Oriented” Jobs
In 2022, Italy had almost 270,000 direct or indirect employees in the automotive sector, which represented 5.2% of GDP.
The European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA) has warned that switching to all electric cars could lead to more than 60,000 job losses in Italy by 2035 for car suppliers alone.
“Since Fiat was absorbed by Stellantis in 2021, Italy no longer has a big car industry, but it remains big in terms of components, all geared towards traditional engines,” noted Lorenzo Codogno, former chief economist at the Italian Treasury.
For consumers, too, the electric revolution has yet to arrive.
Italians are attached to their cars, ranking fourth behind Liechtenstein, Iceland and Luxembourg with 670 passenger cars per 1,000 inhabitants, according to the latest Eurostat data for 2020.
But electric car sales are down 26.9% in 2022 to just 3.7% of the market, versus 12.1% for the EU average.
Subsidies to increase zero-emission vehicles have fallen, while Minister Urso admitted that in infrastructure “we are extremely behind”.
Italy has just 36,000 electric charging stations, compared with 90,000 in the Netherlands, a country a fraction of the size of Italy, it revealed.
“There is no enthusiasm for electric cars in Italy,” Felipe Munoz, an analyst at automotive data firm Jato Dynamics, told AFP. “The offer is scarce, with only one model manufactured by the national automaker Fiat.”
Furthermore, “the purchasing power is not very high, people cannot buy electric vehicles, which are expensive. So demand is low, unlike the Nordic countries.”
Gerrit Marx, head of Italian truck maker Iveco, agrees.
“We run the risk of becoming a big Cuba, with very old cars running for years, because a part of the population will not be able to buy an electric model,” he said.