Wednesday

18th Oct 2017

Investigation

Ex-commissioner Verheugen to testify on Dieselgate

  • Guenther Verheugen asked for time for a full brief before he gives his testimony (Photo: European Parliament)

German former EU commissioner Guenther Verheugen has agreed to appear in front of a European Parliament inquiry committee about car companies cheating on emissions tests, after previously having refused to do so.

“I would like to inform you that I am willing to share all my knowledge about the matters, which the EMIS-committee is investigating, with you and your committee,” Verheugen wrote in a letter to the chair of the committee, known in the Brussels corridors by the initials EMIS.

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The letter was seen by this website. The committee's chair Kathleen Van Brempt also confirmed to EUobserver that Verheugen would appear as a witness.

She said she believed political pressure persuaded Verheugen, and that she was “very satisfied” the German social-democrat had changed his mind.

Verheugen was the EU's industry commissioner from 2004 to 2010, the period during which German car manufacturer Volkswagen Group had started to fit engines of diesel cars with software that allowed the company to cheat on the emissions test.

Initially, Verheugen told the committee, which began its work in March, that he did not see why he would need to testify.

Access to documents

He wrote in a letter dated 19 May he did not see “how I could contribute more than the commission, which is in possession of all relevant documents”.

But according to MEPs, the European Commission has been dragging its feet in delivering the documents they requested. It appears that this was the winning argument, as Verheugen noted in his letter that his understanding of "how the European Commission should cooperate with your committee is evidently not shared" by the current administration.

“I have noticed that the members of the committee are asking very detailed questions, which I could only answer on the basis of a full briefing by the commissioner in charge and her services with full access to all related documents during my term in office as commissioner for enterprise and industry,” wrote Verheugen.

He added that the current administration was “willing” to provide him this access to documents.

The inquiry committee had increased political pressure by asking EP president Martin Schulz to write a letter to convince Verheugen, and to ask EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to persuade him.

But as recent as last Thursday (7 July), Verheugen had said he did not plan to come.

In an email to this website sent that evening, Verheugen declined a request for an interview, because “it would be not appropriate to appear in the media and not in the European Parliament”.

The letter in which he explained to parliament why he “reconsidered” the invitation was dated 8 July.

Originally, Verheugen was scheduled to appear on 14 July, but he asked in his letter for “some time for an adequate preparation” of his testimony. He will appear after the summer break.

Slovakia rebuffs jibes over Dieselgate no-show

Transport minister Arpad Ersek is the only invited minister who has refused to testify before MEPs on Dieselgate, which is awkward as the Slovaks currently hold the six-month presidency of the Council.

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