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24th Jun 2017

Investigation

MEPs reject 'status quo' on car certification

  • Before cars are put on the European market, they need to be approved. The approval system is going to be reformed (Photo: Land Rover MENA)

The European Parliament has far to go on a common position on proposals for more EU oversight of car certification.

On Thursday (29 September), MEPs criticised a draft text by British conservative Daniel Dalton, the rapporteur.

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

“Your report is not a basis for a good discussion,” Danish centre-left MEP Christel Schaldemose told him at a hearing of the internal market and consumer protection committee.

The reform of the so-called type approval process for cars had been planned before revelations in September 2015 that Volkswagen Group had cheated on emissions tests.

The scandal, later dubbed Dieselgate, prompted the European Commission to propose greater EU oversight on national certification bodies.

But Dalton, the rapporteur, said the EU parliament should push for more peer-review by member states, instead of a greater role for the EU commission.

Of Dalton's 196 amendments to the original text proposed by the commission, Schaldemose said she found “only a couple” that she could support.

“I will table a lot of amendments,” said Schaldemose, who is one of the shadow rapporteurs for the text and whose socialist group is the second-largest force in the EU parliament.

She also noted that both her and Dalton are members of the parliament inquiry committee into the Dieselgate scandal, known in the parliament by its acronym Emis.

“We need to learn from the findings of Emis, and I simply don't think that your report responds to the findings we have seen,” said Schaldemose, referring to the growing evidence that the current system for approving cars for the market lacks proper enforcement.

Thursday’s debate was the first time the internal market committee had discussed Dalton's draft.

MEPs from other groups were also critical.

“I get the feeling our committee is slowly but surely, at least in light of this report, turning into a committee which defends the industry,” said French MEP Pascal Durand, of the Green group, one of the smallest.

Durand said that an “umbilical cord” between member state governments and the car industry needs to be cut, and that only the EU Commission could be trusted to play a neutral role.

He said the French government cannot be expected to resist pressure from carmakers, considering unemployment figures and the fact that the French state is a shareholder in Renault.

Which way will the EPP go?

Two speakers from the centre-right EPP group, the dominant force in the house, did not explicitly say if they supported Dalton's vision, or that of the original commission proposal.

“I don't know if the commission can overtake all of the responsibilities from member states,” said EPP member Andreas Schwab from Germany.

“We'll have to discuss that.”

But one fellow EPP member sided with the commission against Dalton.

“We should not weaken” the original commission proposal, said Polish MEP Roza von Thun und Hohenstein, criticising Dalton's version.

“I clearly have the impression it moves in the direction closer to maintaining the status quo. That's not what we want. We want a change.”

The EU commission is “extremely worried” with the changes Dalton proposed to its proposal, said Joanna Szychowska, head of unit for automotive and mobility industries in the commission's directorate-general for industry.

“The changes proposed do not aim to revolutionise the system,” she said, adding that some of the proposed changes go “in the precisely opposite direction”.

Member states

At the end of the debate, Dalton said he still had doubts about how some of the commission's proposed changes would work in practice.

“It's always good to have a robust debate, with different opinions and views,” he said. “That's what our job is.”

As rapporteur for the file, Dalton's job will now be to find a compromise text that is supported by a majority in the house, and then negotiate with national governments.

Even if MEPs convince Dalton that the EU should have greater oversight, it will be member states who will likely prove most difficult to persuade.

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.

Health experts to study Dieselgate impact

Scientists are aiming to provide a complete picture of the effects of the excess emissions of diesel cars, after they estimated VW's emissions test cheating would lead to 1,200 premature deaths in Europe.

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