Saturday

1st Oct 2016

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.

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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