VW: EU's action plan is 'nothing new'
By Peter Teffer
Volkswagen Group's “EU-wide action plan”, announced by the European Commission, to fix diesel cars with cheating software is “actually nothing new”, a spokesman for the company told EUobserver on Thursday (22 September).
EU justice and consumer affairs commissioner, Vera Jourova, said Wednesday, after meeting with one of the members of the Volkswagen Group's (VW) management board, that the German car company “committed to an EU-wide action plan today, which is an important step towards a fair treatment of consumers in the EU”.
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But Nicolai Laude, VW spokesman for the “diesel issue”, told this website that what the commission calls an action plan relates to “what we agreed already with the German authority”.
Indeed, almost a year ago, the managing director of Volkswagen Group UK, Paul Willis, had already promised that the cars equipped with cheating software would be repaired so they would be in line with EU legislation.
“We have an absolute obligation to fix these cars, to put them right and to make sure that they have the same characteristics and the same miles per gallon as we committed to. That is what we are committing to do,” Willis told members of the House of Commons in a hearing on 12 October 2015.
The announcement that Volkswagen “committed to an EU-wide action plan to bring the affected cars back into conformity” topped the daily press release from the EU commission on Thursday, and was one of the three announcements at the daily noon briefing by commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.
“Volkswagen agreed to inform the customers by end 2016 and to have all cars repaired by autumn 2017,” the press release said.
According to an EU commission official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, it was these deadlines that was new.
“By the end of the year everyone should have been contacted,” the official said, adding that VW had not been given a timetable before.
For his part, Laude said that VW had already expected to have every customer informed by the end of 2016.
Indeed, as early as December 2015, VW had said consumers would “shortly" be informed. Surely the company did not mean a one-year time period.
So is it the promise that cars will be fixed by autumn 2017 that is the newsy element of the announcement?
“If you would like to say so, yes,” said the VW spokesman, adding that the public and authorities "probably didn't expect anything different" than the cars being fixed by the date. In autumn 2017, it will be two years since the scandal erupted.
The commission official had said VW was expected to share details with the commission next week, and that the action plan itself was not yet ready. Rather, VW had committed to producing an action plan, the contact said.
Civil society groups expressed disappointment.
“This action plan does not seem to contain any new elements when comparing it with VW’s commitments back in 2015. Recalling the cars is not even the bare minimum that consumers expect from VW,” said deputy director-general Ursula Pachl of European consumer lobby group BEUC.
Greg Archer, of the environmental lobby organisation Transport & Environment, was equally critical.
“The commission's statement demonstrates its abject failure to hold VW to account and the arrogance of the company towards its customers,” he said.
“VW drivers have been repeatedly told their cars will be recalled and the announcement they may have to wait another year for the fix is disgraceful.”
US vs EU
The difference between how authorities in the US and the EU have reacted is stark.
In the United States, where authorities had forced VW to admit to cheating on the emissions tests, the German company agreed to a €13.2 billion settlement to compensate consumers and clean up the environmental damage. Meanwhile, the company may still face substantial penalties.
In Europe, however, VW has refused to offer financial compensation to owners of affected cars, despite 8.5 million of the 11 million cars with cheating software are operating here.
“A commitment to inform consumers is hardly a sufficient remedy when a company has breached European Union consumer law,” said BEUC's Pachl, adding the commission “should not accept such poor promises.”
The EU commission official said compensation was discussed at the meeting between Jourova and VW, but could not give details.
The meeting between Jourova and VW official Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz was “a very good, positive, constructive meeting”, according to spokesman Laude.
He added they have agreed to meet again before the end of the year.
The meeting came two weeks after Jourova had said that it "seems" that VW had broken EU consumer laws.
Update: On Friday 23 September, VW spokesman Nicolai Laude called EUobserver to say he had misunderstood the question, and that part of the action plan is in fact new. He has yet to send a statement to explain which part.