Monday

24th Jul 2017

Investigation

Car firms could profit from confusion on EU certificates

  • If a car is approved for sale in Greece, it will be saleable throughout the EU (Photo: Jean-Baptiste Perrin)

Car manufacturers may be able to dodge the rules when asking permission to sell a type of car, because EU countries have different interpretations on what to do if one of them has already rejected such a request.

Like in other markets around the world, car manufacturers need a governmental stamp of approval on safety and environmental standards before they can sell their cars on the European market.

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  • Click to enlarge the infographic (Photo: EUobserver)

These certificates are called type approvals – because they are valid for all cars of the same type – and are handed out by authorities in the 28 member states.

Once a car company has acquired a type approval in one member state, it is free to sell the car in the entire bloc.

The system is based on trust: EU countries assume each other's authorities will be equally strict.

According to EU rules, if a type-approval request has been denied, all the other authorities must be informed.

But states appear to differ over whether they are allowed to sell a certificate for a car type that has been rejected in another EU country.

The European Parliament's inquiry committee into the Dieselgate scandal, which involved cars putting out dangerous emissions way beyond EU limits, asked all member states to fill out a questionnaire.

Among other things, the EP asked whether companies are allowed to apply for a type approval in a different member state, if the first attempt failed.

So far, only seven of the 28 member state responded, but already different interpretations have emerged.

According to the Dutch ministry of infrastructure and environment, if a vehicle has failed the approval process, its shortcomings need to be fixed first.

“It is not allowed to apply for an approval at another [type approval authority] if it’s the same type,” the Dutch wrote.

Their Swedish counterparts were equally clear.

“If the type-approval authority decides to refuse an application it shall issue a decision of refusal for the type concerned. With such a decision the manufacturer shall not be able to apply in another Member State,” they noted.

Greece however, had a different point of view.

“Under the law it is not forbidden to type-approve a vehicle which has failed to get a type approval in another [member state],” said the Greek response.

Although Greece added that “there hasn’t been such a case until now”, its response clearly showed that if carmakers went searching for the weakest link in the system, they may find it in Greece.

Another may be found in Spain, which did not directly answer the EP's question.

It merely stated that manufacturers are “free to choose the type-approval authority in which to type-approve their vehicles” and that it was “not aware” of failed vehicles being put forward for approval in another EU country.

Is this a serious problem?

According to France's response, it isn't, since in practice carmakers will not apply for a type approval if they have reason to believe they will fail. There are many intermediate steps before the final certificate is requested.

But just because it may not be happening now, does not reduce the risk of the loophole being used in future.

Dieselgate shows weakness of EU federalism-lite

EU states are hesitant to transfer power to Brussels, but the case of how car certification works, or doesn't work, in practice gives few arguments to supporters of the status quo.

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