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19th Oct 2019

Investigation

'Rude' ex-commissioner blanks MEPs' diesel probe

  • Guenther Verheugen in 2006, when he was EU commissioner for industry (Photo: European Commission)

Former EU commissioner Guenther Verheugen is the only ex-commissioner invited by the European Parliament's inquiry committee into the dieselgate affair, who has not yet confirmed his attendance.

According to the committee's chairwoman, centre-left Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt, all the other ex-commissioners have accepted the invitation to appear in front of the committee, which started its work with hearings in earnest in April.

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“We have had no reply,” she told EUobserver on Tuesday (24 May), more than three weeks after she wrote an invitation letter to Verheugen.

“I think it's rather rude not to reply,” Van Brempt said, noting that it also adds to uncertainty.

“Is he still undecided? Is he hoping it will all go away?”.

The EP committee is investigating whether the European Commission and national governments have done enough on their side to try and prevent car companies from cheating on emissions tests.

The following ex-commissioners confirmed to the inquiry committee they would appear: Stavros Dimas (environment, 2004-2010); Antonio Tajani (industry, 2010-2014); and Janez Potocnik (environment, 2010-2014).

Current industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska and environment commissioner Karmenu Vella have also accepted the EP's invitation.

Verheugen was industry commissioner from 2004 to 2010, a period during which Volkswagen Group had started equipping what eventually would be 11 million diesel cars with illegal software, aimed at fooling the emissions test.

It was also the period in which the commission's in-house science division, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), for the first time tested passenger cars on the road to see if their emissions of pollutants was similar to those measured in the laboratories. They found massive discrepancies.

It took several years before the JRC published the results, which has lead some MEPs to think that there may have been a cover-up coming from the industry department of the commission.

But so far Verheugen, a German and former chair of an industry-friendly high level group called CARS21, has not taken up the opportunity to clear the air.

Access to documents

Van Brempt also said the committee would ask the JRC for additional documents. The committee had asked the JRC to send all relevant communication, including emails, but it had only sent documents from the last two years.

“The moment has come to increase pressure,” she said.

Van Brempt added she would write an additional invitation letter to Verheugen, and confirmed that if necessary, she would ask EP president Martin Schulz to convince Verheugen to come.

Schulz and Verheugen are both members of the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany.

How the car industry won the EU's trust

Car companies are allowed to do carry out some testing of their own products thanks to some little-noticed legislation inspired by an industry-backed report.

EU commission reshuffles car emissions expert

Move takes place amidst frustration with MEPs investigating dieselgate over lack of cooperation from the commission's in-house think tank. An interview was prevented from taking place.

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