Friday

30th Sep 2016

Investigation

German MPs to also probe Dieselgate

  • The German inquiry committee will have some persuasive measures at its disposal to ensure cooperation from uncooperative witnesses (Photo: Nils Endjer)

German parliamentarians will on Thursday (7 July) begin an inquiry into whether the German government could have been expected to do more to prevent the emissions cheating scandal in diesel cars.

“We want to know why the federal government has looked away for so long, despite ample evidence being available that cars did not meet the [emissions] limits on the road,” said Green member of parliament (MP) Oliver Krischer.

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The German parliament, or Bundestag, will vote on Thursday afternoon whether to establish a parliamentary inquiry, as requested by opposition parties The Greens and Die Linke (meaning "the left").

Normally such an investigative committee requires support from one-fourth of MPs.

However, the parties in the governing grand coalition decided in 2013 that during this parliamentary term support is only needed from 120 of 630 members - the combined number of seats of the two opposition parties. With both opposition parties supporting the establishment of the committee, it is highly likely it will receive the required support.

The German probe comes as an inquiry by the European Parliament is already four months under way, but is being hindered by a lack of access to documents.

While the European Parliament's probe looks at the European Commission, the EU's executive body, and all member states, the Bundestag committee will focus on implementation of EU rules in Germany.

“The committee of inquiry in Germany will address the policy failures in Germany,” MP Krischer told EUobserver via email. It will look at why the German governmental body that is responsible for approving cars before they receive their certificate, did not detect something was wrong."

The left-wing politician added that cheating on emissions tests by Volkswagen Group, and regularly switching off emissions control systems by many other car manufacturers, was made possible by “organised state failure”.

Frustration in EU parliament

Meanwhile, in Brussels and Strasbourg, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are getting increasingly frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of cooperation on the part of the Commission.

The slow and selective trickle of documents from the commission and its in-house science body are proving especially annoying.

“From some meetings we have a summary of the minutes, for others we have nothing,” said Dutch Greens MEP Bas Eickhout at a committee meeting in Strasbourg on Monday (4 July).

“This is so clearly obstruction on the side of the commission to delay our work,” said Eickhout.

“If we just keep on allowing that as an inquiry committee, we are not taking ourselves seriously.”

The committee has a 12-month mandate that will expire in March 2017. Without having had access to internal documents, like emails and minutes of meetings, MEPs have a disadvantage vis-a-vis the witnesses they interrogate.

“At some point we have to figure out whether it is actually fruitful to have hearings with commissioners on papers we haven't actually seen,” said Swedish Liberal MEP Fredrick Federley.

“The quality of our questions will be too low and built on rumours instead of fact,” the Swede noted, suggesting that the committee's activity should perhaps be frozen “for a couple of months”, while it waits for the documents to arrive.

Verheugen's name comes up

Next week, the committee will interrogate former EU commissioner Stavros Dimas (environment, 2004-2010). It has also invited Dimas' then colleague Guenther Verheugen (industry), but the German has declined.

Verheugen's name came up several times during Monday's hearing, such as when witness Jos Dings of the green lobby group Transport & Environment said it was “difficult to get a good political commitment from him to reduce emissions from vehicles”.

British Labour MEP Seb Dance said the committee still expected Verheugen to show up.

“The more I hear about commissioner Verheugen, the more I want him here answering questions,” said Dance.

While the EU parliament has little more than soft power, the German inquiry committee will have more measures at its disposal to ensure cooperation from Verheugen, who is a German national.

If someone refuses to testify in front of a Bundestag committee of inquiry “without legal basis cause”, a fine of up to €10,000 may be imposed. In extraordinary cases a judge may even detain a witness who is refusing to show up.

German MP Oliver Krischer said the committee, which is expected to start work immediately after the vote on Thursday, will first look at the existing evidence before starting to invite witnesses.

That Verheugen will receive an invitation “is for me definitely not off the table” he said.

Investigation

One year on: Dieselgate keeps getting bigger

One year ago, it emerged that VW had cheated on emission tests in what came to be called the Dieselgate affair. EUobserver looked at how it happened and what the EU did to stop it.

Investigation

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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