Germany has until next Monday (19 August) to satisfy the European Commission (EC) it will conform to its refrigerant directive, with Brussels dangling the possibility it may launch “appropriate infringement procedures” if Berlin continues its defiance.

The row has quickly escalated to a full-scale dispute between Berlin and the EC, with the German Transport Ministry backing Mercedes-Benz in its battle to use the r134a coolant as opposed to the Brussels-recommended r1234yf variant, which the automaker claims can be highly flammable in certain circumstances.

“Mercedes is [going] on their path and we are supporting their view,” a German Transport Ministry spokesperson previously told just-auto. “We are exchanging letters with the government of France on [the] interpretation of European legislation.

“[We] don’t want the European Union to say use this or that cooling liquid if it does not work. It is a technical issue the car industry has to solve.”

Despite Mercedes holding firm to its position, the Commission is starting to flex its muscles, noting the climate objectives of the directive were not being fulfilled.

“In case the German authorities will not be able to provide explanations by the deadline – 19 August – the Commission – in its role as Guardian of the Treaty – may take the necessary action – including where appropriate infringement procedures,” an EC official told just-auto from Brussels.
“So at the moment, the Commission is waiting for an explanation from German authorities which should arrive by the 19 August deadline.”

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Environmental lobby group, Greenpeace, says the EC has been prompted into its tough stance by France, which has banned certification of Mercedes A, B, CLA and SL models using r134a instead of r1234yf.

“The German Transport Minister has to answer this from 19 August,” Greenpeace special projects director, Wolfgang Lohbeck, told just-auto from Hamburg.

“It is very common they threaten a law case against a country and then the country has a certain time to react. The penalties are money and a European-wide ban on these cars.”

Greenpeace has unusually thrown its weight behind Mercedes in its efforts to allow the use of r134a as the automaker develops a CO2-based alternative, while Paris and Brussels remain implacably opposed.

The argument is also framed by Germany’s apparent reluctance to attempts by the EU to drive down CO2 emissions to 95g per vehicle.

German premium OEMs have been supporters of the super-credits allowing them to mitigate high emissions from some of their range with credits earned from electric or hybrid-electric vehicles – an apparent position that has met with criticism from environmental groups,

Greenpeace insists the EC potential action is based “purely on the refrigerant issue,” but that Germany’s views surrounding the CO2 debate could have provided Brussels with ammunition.

“It was a good hook to create a point against the all-too mighty Germans,” said Lohbeck.

The German Transport Ministry was not immediately available today (16 August) for comment.