Monday

16th Jan 2017

Investigation

Tensions rise again among Dieselgate MEPs

  • Centre-left chairwoman Van Brempt (l) is accused of protecting fellow MEPs (Photo: European Parliament)

Political infighting seems to have returned to the European Parliament's inquiry committee into the Dieselgate scandal, with the centre-left chairwoman being accused of partiality.

The committee had for several months worked together relatively peacefully, but a meeting of the coordinators of political groups on Thursday (1 September) saw a return to political sneering.

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The meeting saw German centre-right MEP Jens Gieseke propose to invite MEPs Bernd Lange and Matthias Groote to testify in front of the committee.

Lange and Groote are both centre-left Germans, and were involved in the drafting of legislation that was relevant to the Volkswagen scandal, which the committee is investigating.

In 1997, Bernd Lange was the MEP who suggested illegal emissions cheating software should be banned. EUobserver interviewed him recently.

Groote was responsible for negotiating on behalf of the EU parliament on current car emissions rules.

But according to several sources present at the meeting, the inquiry committee's chairwoman, centre-left Belgian Kathleen Van Brempt was not in favour of hearing them.

German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel said Van Brempt “showed resistance to the proposal” and only proposed to send written questions to the MEPs. Henkel on Thursday issued a press release in which he accused her of giving her fellow socialist colleagues “some sort of 'immunity'”.

Henkel is also a centre-right member, but from the ECR group, a different unit than Gieseke's EPP.

Van Brempt could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon. She later sent EUobserver a message saying "no decision has been taken". Van Brempt said she would come with a proposal at the end of September.

One contact noted that there was a “clear majority” in favour of hearing from the two German MEPs in one way or the other, but probably in a less confrontational style than the hearings so far, which were conducted in a “ping-pong” fashion of questions and answers.

The source said that it was likely that the debate will take the form of a so-called “exchange of views”, which is usually designed as a round of questions, followed by a broad answer.

The episode is striking because in the past months the investigative committee appeared to have lost some of its partisan edges.

The committee's set-up was opposed by most of the EPP and ECR members, and its first meeting was delayed for months because of political turmoil.

But recently, the committee seemed to work more as a team, with a reluctantly cooperative EU commission as a common adversary.

The reported "reluctance" to invite centre-left MEPs is somewhat uncharacteristic of Van Brempt, who as chairwoman had apparently felt no political reservations to criticise centre-left German Guenther Verheugen as being rude when he had initially turned down an invitation to appear as a witness.

The fact that they are MEPs should also not be an argument, as one MEP is already lined up as a witness.

One of the two witnesses scheduled for Monday (5 September), Antonio Tajani, is not only a former commissioner of industry, but also a current vice-president of the EU parliament, and possible EPP contender for the centre-left-held EU parliament presidency.

That may also be a reason for a return to a sharper contrast between left and right.

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