Sunday

23rd Apr 2017

Interview

One of UK's last MEPs tries to shape car legislation

  • Dalton on Brexit: "From my point of view, legally, nothing has changed" (Photo: European Parliament)

Should British members of the European Parliament give up important positions, now that the United Kingdom's citizens have chosen a British exit from the EU, or Brexit?

Quickly after the result was made public, Conservative MEP Ian Duncan announced his resignation as rapporteur for a reform of the EU's emission trading system.

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  • The type approval system as it is now (Photo: EUobserver)

But Daniel Dalton, who, as rapporteur for the reform of legislation on car certification is responsible for guiding another piece of legislation through parliament, held a different view.

“From my point of view, legally, nothing has changed,” Dalton told EUobserver in a recent interview.

Unlike his colleague Duncan, Dalton did not see how Brexit should affect the fact that he was a rapporteur.

“I didn't consider it”, he said about resigning, adding that Duncan had returned after a plea from fellow MEPs to stay on.

“We are still a member of the European Union. Who knows what happens, but I am confident we will still be involved in the internal market, and particularly the internal market in cars, in the future.”

“I'm going to be one of the last British legislators involved in the legislation of the internal market,” said Dalton.

“I want to make sure that we still have influence right up to the last moment.”

Dalton believes that the negotiations on the car approval reform will be finished before Brexit will happen, so there will be “at least” a number of years when the new legislation will still apply to the UK.

He said he “grabbed” the opportunity of becoming rapporteur on the file because of his home constituency in the UK.

“I represent West Midlands, which is the biggest car manufacturing part of the UK. Jaguar for example make virtually all their cars there, Ashton Martin are there. It always historically has been a huge car-producing region.”

As rapporteur, Dalton will have to negotiate with representatives of the EU's national governments, and come to a compromise on the legal text, which was drafted and proposed by the European Commission in January.

While rules on car safety and environmental standards are agreed at an EU level, implementation of car certification, called type approval, is done at national level.

Some have argued that part of the reason why Volkswagen Group (VW) was able to fool regulators with its emissions cheating for so long, was because national authorities face conflicts of interests, like the effect strict action would have on the national industry.

EU oversight scrapped

The EU commission had proposed greater EU oversight in the wake of the VW scandal, but in his draft version of the legislation, the Tory MEP deleted that whole section.

“Once you get a type approval from a member state, it is then recognised throughout all of Europe,” said Dalton. “You can't have a system of mutual recognition without trust in the national authorities.”

"If we are saying that we don't trust them, then there is a serious problem with the whole idea of mutual recognition."

He also said greater EU oversight may actually result in the national authorities becoming less stringent.

“There is a danger that they [the commission] are going to undermine the current system,” said Dalton. “The national authorities are going to say: the pressure is not on us, because the commission are doing it.”

Dalton also said that the commission does not have enough resources to carry out the tasks it has proposed to take up - something which the commission's impact assessment refutes - and that there is no political will to assign that money from elsewhere.

Instead, Dalton believes that a system of peer-reviews between the national type approval authorities will be enough to find maladministration.

But why would the eurosceptic British citizens be more open for peer-reviews from other national capitals than from Brussels?

“If they [authorities from other EU countries] are checking the UK authority with a view of the fact that cars get type-approved in the UK are able to drive through the rest of Europe, I think most people would understand that if you are going to have that system, those countries need to know what's going on in the UK", he said.

“I think you would find that when it's explained like that, people would understand that you need some peer review. Also, let's be honest. If you are a type approval authority, you should welcome peer review,” he said, adding that peer-reviews by other European countries is “a very different thing” from checks from the EU commission.

Dieselgate inquiry committee

While the Volkswagen scandal has accelerated the commission's proposal on the reform of the type approval system, Dalton said that the most important legislative response to the cheating affair is not this file, but the new emissions test procedure, that will enter into force next year.

The parliamentarian is therefore not convinced there should be a strong relation between his report, and the work of the parliament's inquiry committee into the Volkswagen scandal, as some MEPs have suggested.

The final report of the inquiry group is expected early next year, but Dalton said “most of these recommendations are not going to fit in the type approval report”.

He noted that he is also a member of the committee, known in the parliament's corridors by its acronym EMIS.

“I think it is unlikely the EMIS committee is going to come out with something so new and so significant that we are not aware of it now”, said Dalton.

But the British MEP has not been a familiar face at the committee's hearings.

“Sometimes they've clashed with other committees I'm on. Sometimes they've clashed with debates that are going on back home. We've just had a referendum campaign in the UK, so obviously I've been there for a lot of that”, said Dalton.

But the referendum campaign did not stop other British MEPs, like Labour MEP Seb Dance, from attending the hearings.

“Yeah, true. But I'm doing this report. I'm doing a significant amount of work on this report. And also I have to be honest, I don't like the format of the inquiry committee.”

MEPs need to pre-register for a speaking slot if they want to ask questions, which Dalton dislikes.

“On many occassions I haven't been able to speak. If that's the case and you can't really interact in the committee, what's the difference between being in the committee and watching it here online?”, he said.

Constituency concerns

In preparation of his draft report, which will be discussed in the parliament's committee on the internal market and consumer protection on 29 September, Dalton said he met “a wide variety” of people.

“I don't just see carmakers or just see people from the environmental side, or people from the consumer side”, said Dalton, who noted that he had not spoken to individual carmakers, apart from those in his home constituency.

However, he also noted he had “no sympathy” for carmakers at the moment.

“I feel the automobile industry as a whole has been treating consumers not in a very good way. But I do have sympathy for the fact that the car industry as an industry is a huge employer of jobs throughout the whole of Europe", he said.

EU seeks more control on national car tests

The Volkswagen scandal has convinced the EU executive to seek greater powers. "We have to make sure this never happens again," said commissioner Katainen.

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