Thursday

2nd Dec 2021

EU science body 'pre-selecting' diesel probe evidence

  • The parliament inquiry committee into dieselgate has trouble receiving all the relevant documents (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Commission's in-house science body is granting the European Parliament only partial access to documents MEPs asked for in relation to their investigation into the dieselgate scandal, in what some MEPs regard as a delaying tactic.

The Joint Research Centre (JRC), which had found discrepancies between official test results and emissions while driving on the road, was asked in April by the parliament's inquiry committee to provide all relevant documents since 2005.

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  • MEP Julia Reda finds it problematic that the JRC appears “to make a pre-selection and decide which documents are relevant for our investigation” (Photo: European Parliament)

Later that month, the JRC provided documents to the MEPs, but only e-mails from 2014 and 2015, and documents that were already public. After a second request from the inquiry committee, the JRC sent a second batch of papers on 7 June.

But that batch again contained only a selection of what the MEPs had asked for.

The letter accompanying the batch of documents, signed by JRC director-general Vladimir Sucha, was seen by this website.

"In view of the large number of documents identified, certain selection criteria had to be applied,” Sucha wrote.

An annex to the letter noted that several attachments to e-mails were not disclosed, because they were for example “not yet publicly available”.

“It could be a draft of a scientific article that has not yet been published in the specialised press and would lose its originality if it were to be released beforehand. Once it is published, it will of course be made available,” the annex said.

Documents could also be excluded if they contained “information linked to an ongoing legislative process” or if the document was “a large spreadsheet that could not be transferred into a reasonably sized pdf format”.

“E-mail exchanges among desk officers or scientists in Commission DGs consulting each other on drafts of documents (presentations, scientific papers) are not included,” the JRC told MEPs in the annex, although it added that they could be made available if the inquiry committee asked for them specifically.

MEP Julia Reda finds it problematic that the JRC appears “to make a pre-selection and decide which documents are relevant for our investigation”, something Reda thinks the parliament itself should determine.

Reda is a member of the German Pirate Party, sits with the left-wing Greens group in the EP, and is one of the substitute members of the inquiry committee.

She told this website in an e-mail “the Commission is very uncooperative in providing us speedy access to the necessary documents that are not already public”.

The difficulty of the dieselgate committee in accessing documents brings to mind the experience of an earlier investigative group in the parliament, which looked at sweetheart tax deals given to multinationals.

That committee, known in the EP corridors by its acronym TAXE, was stonewalled last year by uncooperative member states. In theory, the dieselgate committee, which is an inquiry committee, has more powers to demand documents than the tax committee, which was a special committee.

“Even the special committee TAXE managed to obtain access to relevant email exchanges and it's unacceptable that the same fights over access to documents need to be re-fought with every new special or inquiry committee,” said Reda.

According to an informal stocktaking of documents received by the emissions scandal committee so far, around 86 e-mails from and to the JRC were released, and around 370 other types of documents.

The European Commission proper has released, as requested, 16 letters or emails, which it received since 2005 from the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA).

No notes

The MEPs have yet to scrutinise any confidential Commission documents.

The committee and commission are in negotiations on how to organize that, with the commission only wanting to grant access to MEPs in a secure reading room, without allowing them to take notes.

“Of course, no serious investigation can be conducted this way, it undermines the right of MEPs to work in their native language and to be supported by their assistants, not to mention that it's impossible to conduct a thorough investigation of a large body of documents without being able to take notes,” said Reda.

Her group, the Greens, is planning a reading session of all the available documents for Friday (17 June).

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.

German MPs to also probe Dieselgate

Bundestag inquiry committee has more enforcement tools than its EU counterpart to ensure witnesses like former commissioner Guenther Verheugen will appear.

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