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11th Apr 2021

Dieselgate isn't my fault, says German transport minister

  • Dobrindt (r) said the VW scandal “came as a surprise” (Photo: European Parliament)

German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt has told MEPs he is not responsible for the failure to detect Volkswagen's cheating on emissions tests.

“Volkswagen has cheated, so only Volkswagen is responsible for this fraud,” he told members of the European Parliament's inquiry committee on Thursday (20 October).

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The scandal came to light after US authorities pressed the German carmaker to explain high emissions measured outside the laboratory.

However, Dobrindt said the scandal “came as a surprise”, despite several strong hints available to member states for years that something was wrong.

Instead, the centre-right politician focused on the German position that EU emissions legislation leaves too much room for interpretation.

Dobrindt said exception to the ban on cheating software, which allows their use when needed to protect the engine, can be too easily invoked by carmakers.

German Liberal MEP Gesine Meissner pointed out at the hearing that the German government had agreed to the legislation in 2007.

Dobrindt replied: “The rules are from 2007. If you want to know what happened, you need to talk to the people who were there in 2007.”

Meissner's Danish colleague, Christel Schaldemose, asked if the German government had ever asked the commission for clarification on the rules before the Volkswagen scandal broke in September 2015.

In his answer, Dobrindt only spoke about the situation since September 2015.

“Okay, so the answer is no,” said Schaldemose.

Dobrindt, transport minister since 2013, also said he could not comment on why negotiations for a new on-road emissions test took so long. The talks started in 2011, and were finished in 2015.

Belgian MEP Lieve Wierinck wanted to know if the test could have been adopted quicker, and what the main obstacles were.

But Dobrindt said he could not answer those questions, saying: "I wasn't there."

Dobrindt was also questioned about the investigation into real-world emissions in models other than those that the Volkswagen Group had admitted were equipped with cheating software known as defeat devices.

He said it was “false” that Germany was treating car companies differently based on their origins and insisted that they "apply the same yardstick on everyone".

In a press release sent out shortly after the hearing, Green MEP Bas Eickhout called the hearing “deeply disappointing”.

“He chose to place the blame exclusively on weak European regulation, conveniently ignoring the role of his own ministry in the law-making process,” said the left-wing Dutchman.

However, some of Dobrindt's political family members appeared to have disagreed with Eickhout's negative assessment.

Unusually for an inquiry hearing, it ended with applause from some MEPs, mostly Germans from centre-right groups.

EU told of possible emission cheating in 2012

The Joint Research Centre said in 2012 that a diesel vehicle was emitting much more nitrogen oxide (NOx) when the outside temperature was different from the laboratory parameters.

Fiat questions 'fantastical' EU emissions tests

Italian-American car maker Fiat had "no explanations" for tests showing its cars polluted above EU limits when questioned by MEPs, described some tests as “fantastical”.

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