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20th Jan 2019

Investigation

'Easy to say' EU should have found VW scandal

  • 'The decision process in the European Union is slow. We know this' (Photo: European Parliament)

A former top EU official told members of the European Parliament's inquiry committee into the Dieselgate scandal that, even in hindsight, he would not have done anything differently about EU's anti-pollution policy.

“Of course you can easily say now that we could have acted earlier, in a shorter period of time, and we could even have tried to discover defeat devices. But this is easy to say,” said Stavros Dimas in front of the inquiry committee on Thursday (14 July).

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Dimas was environment commissioner from 2004 to 2010.

Defeat devices are elements in a car that reduce the effectiveness of the anti-pollution system. They are forbidden, but Volkswagen Group (VW) used them when cheating on the emissions test.

VW only admitted to cheating after authorities in the United States confronted the company with high emissions on the road compared to the test results.

The European Parliament is investigating whether the EU and national governments could have done more to detect that carmakers were cheating.

MEPs also want to know why improved methods to test emissions were not introduced sooner.

Dimas blamed EU decision making in general.

“The decision process in the European Union is slow. We know this,” said Dimas. “So it takes really long. This is the reason I said I would have preferred a shorter period to have the better test.”

The 75-year old Greek did not put the blame on the industry department of the commission, or the man who headed it in the same period: Guenter Verheugen.

“I had the honour and pleasure to work together with Mr Verheugen, who was a dedicated European,” said Dimas. “He worked very hard for the promotion for the interests of Europe.”

Some MEPs suspect the industry directorate of the commission of having delayed the publication of a study on emissions from the commission's science body, the Joint Research Centre.

“I do not remember any obstruction,” said Dimas.

He was also asked about the practice of carmakers who equip their cars with defeat devices to protect the engine, something that is allowed in exceptional circumstances.

Manufacturers have used them in situations that can hardly be considered as exceptional, for instance, when it is colder than 17C outside.

“There are flexibilities [in the law] and the industry in my opinion is overstretching these flexibilities … In my personal legal opinion, this can be against the spirit of the law,” said Dimas.

He would however not say if Renault - which had used the lower than 17C threshold - had used a defeat device.

“I do not know the technical details and I cannot give an answer. It would be irresponsible of me,” said Dimas.

Clean air or clean labs?

Earlier in the day, the committee interrogated the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA), a Brussels-based car lobby group.

It asked ACEA's Paul Greening whether the industry thought it was against the spirit of the law that emissions on the road were so much higher than in the test laboratory.

“We believe the emission limits are related to the test procedures,” said Greening.

Dimas was the first former politician to testify in front of the committee. The next hearing will be after the summer break, with Dimas' former colleague Verheugen.

Car makers caught out on dodgy EU claim

Carmakers claim they don't know what "normal" driving conditions are in terms of EU law. But their own lobby group already decided 14 years ago.

Dieselgate MEPs let ex-commissioners off hook

The European Parliament's Dieselgate inquiry committee will not pursue Erkki Liikanen and Margot Wallstrom to testify, accepting that their mandates were too long ago.

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