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16th Jun 2019

Investigation

Former EU commissioners to testify in emissions probe

  • July 2013: then EU commissioners Potocnik (l) and Tajani visit China. Later that year they exchanged letters on car emissions (Photo: European Commission)

Two former European Commissioners, who may have suspected car companies were fiddling emission tests three years ago, have agreed to appear in front of the European Parliament's inquiry committee into the scandal.

Antonio Tajani and Janez Potocnik have accepted the parliament's invitation, the committee's chairwoman Kathleen Van Brempt told EUobserver. The two were responsible for industry and environment, respectively, under the second commission led by Jose Manuel Barroso (2010-2014).

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In 2013, they exchanged letters that were later published by the Financial Times in which they discussed the “significant discrepancy between the certified emissions and those actually observed on the road”.

Potocnik wrote about “widespread concerns that performance has been tailored tightly to compliance with the test cycle in disregard of the dramatic increase in emissions outside that narrow scope”.

Tajani, who was also transport commissioner under the first Barroso commission, is now a member of the European Parliament, and one of the institution's 14 vice-presidents.

His spokesman said Tajani “will be more than happy” to testify, and was “looking forward” to the hearing.

Increasing pressure on Verheugen

MEPs also want to hear from former industry commissioner Guenther Verheugen (2004-2010). Chairwoman Van Brempt denied rumours that Verheugen had already turned down the invitation.

“The process is ongoing,” she told this website after Thursday's (28 April) hearing. She said that the committee will increase pressure. After a letter from the secretariat, Verheugen will now receive a letter drafted by Van Brempt. She said she'll send it on Friday.

Former environment commissioner Stavros Dimas (2004-2010) is also on the committee's wish list, as are current commissioners Elzbieta Bienkowska (industry) and Karmenu Vella (environment).

A spokeswoman for Bienkowska already confirmed she'll show up.

“From the very outset, commissioner Bienkoswka indicated her readiness to work with the inquiry committee and [to] indeed appear before it,” said spokeswoman Lucia Caudet.

It is customary for commissioners to appear in front of the parliament to maintain good relations. Van Brempt said she expects the current commissioners to do it without any fuss.

The committee's power to force ex-commissioners to appear is limited beyond naming and shaming, however.

The committee also wants to interrogate car industry bosses, including Volkswagen's. The company's managing director in the UK appeared in front of the House of Commons last year.

A different EU parliament investigative committee in the past tried other ways to draw out testimonies.

It said that uncooperative witnesses could be struck out from the EU lobby register.

The EP's special committee into sweetheart tax deals - which had less powerful investigative rights than the dieselgate committee - had received rejection after rejection from companies it had asked to testify.

When some of those companies did show up several months later, it became clear they were not impressed with MEPs’ work.

“We didn't find it relevant to attend this meeting at that point,” said Krister Mattsson, the head of corporate finance at Swedish furniture retailer Ikea.

The hearings with ex-commissioners on the emissions scandal will probably take place in the summer. The next inquiry committee hearing is on 24 May.

Member states stonewall EP tax probe

EU member states are refusing to hand over documents to help the European Parliament's probe into tax abuse by multi-national corporations.

Dieselgate: Looking under the hood

EUobserver will closely follow the hearings and research done by the EU parliament's inquiry committee, as well as investigate aspects of the diesel emissions scandal not covered by the committee's mandate.

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