24th Mar 2018


EU states under pressure for laxity on car emissions

  • Did member states place "dissuasive" penalties on the use of illegal cheating software by car companies? (Photo: Michael Coghlan)

The European Commission is not yet reassured member states have fulfilled their obligations on emissions legislation, and is keeping the option of opening infringement procedures on the table.

The commission is worried EU countries may not have properly introduced “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties for the use of defeat devices, the legal term for cheating software of the type Volkswagen used to fool emissions tests.

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After the Volkswagen scandal emerged, almost a year ago, the commission asked each of the 28 national governments how they have implemented the penalties requirement, to which they agreed themselves when drawing up the relevant legislation in 2007.

Since then, an exchange of letters has begun between Brussels and the national capitals. Over last months, EUobserver received the majority of them through a freedom of information request.

The commission said it had to ask permission from the member states to release the documents.

On Tuesday (6 September) however, the commission told this website that it had not received permission to release the most recent letters from Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

“The documents relate to an ongoing investigation regarding a possible infringement of EU law,” the commission wrote.

It noted that the commission and the member states are in the so-called Pilot procedure, which is a more amicable exchange aimed at resolving issues before it gets to the infringement procedure, which can ultimately lead to fines for member states.

The goal of the Pilot procedures is to avoid infringement procedures, but the “possibility that infringement proceedings will be opened during the EU Pilot procedure cannot ... be ruled out either”, the commission noted.

“For this reason, disclosure of documents in the context of the EU Pilot procedure is also likely to affect the outcome of subsequent infringement proceedings,” it said.

That means that the current commission under leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker might do what the administration under his predecessor, Jose Manuel Barroso, failed to do.

Initially, member states were required to inform the commission about which penalties they had installed for the use of defeat devices in 2009. Not one country was on time.

Subsequently, the commission sent out letters requesting this information in 2013, but received a reply from only eighteen member states. It did nothing to follow-up on those replies, nor did it ask again from the countries that had not sent anything.

The rejection to release documents by the six member states mentioned above, does not automatically prove that the commission will open infringement procedures against these countries, nor does it mean that other countries are already off the hook.

Emissions cheats face tiny fines in some EU states

Fines for car firms that cheat tests in the EU range from €7 million to €1,000. EU commission itself unsure to what extent states complied with rules on "dissuasive" penalties.

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