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28th Feb 2021

Investigation

EU lawmakers need more time for car approval reform

  • MEP Fjellner: 'It would be irresponsible of me not to ask for extra time' (Photo: Tom Woodward)

It will take more time than initially expected for European legislators to reach agreement on a proposed reform of how cars are approved for the EU market.

The reform was proposed by the EU's executive branch, the European Commission, in January.

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The system was already due to be reformed, but after it emerged in September 2015 that Volkswagen Group had cheated on emissions tests, the commission decided to propose increased EU oversight.

The current system is still very nationally-oriented, with national authorities approving cars for the entire EU market. Critics say independent monitoring is needed.

But the legislative proposal is delayed in both institutions whose approval is needed: the European Parliament, and the Council of the EU, where national governments meet.

In the parliament, the internal market and consumer protection (Imco) committee has the lead. British Conservative MEP Daniel Dalton is in charge of steering the file through parliament.

Last week, he told his colleagues he was “a little bit disappointed” because he had to delay the vote on his draft report. Instead of in November, the vote will now take place on 26 January.

Rapporteur Dalton noted that that date is 364 days after the commission published its original proposal. He blamed two other parliament committees.

“The environment and transport committees didn't get their act together and have been very slow in coming forward with their opinions,” said Dalton.

In the parliament, one committee usually has the lead to compile a report, which contains the parliament's desired version of the legislation. Other committees feed into that report by publishing opinions.

The author of the environment committee's opinion, Christofer Fjellner, told EUobserver on Tuesday (15 November) it is “correct that we needed more time”.

Fjellner, a centre-right Swede, defended the delay.

“We had more than 300 amendments,” he said over the phone.

“Sure, we could vote on 300 amendments. The reason we decided to postpone is that we saw a great opportunity to have the broadest possible majority. It would be irresponsible of me not to ask for extra time.”

Fjellner will now negotiate with other political groups to see which amendments can be merged into compromise texts, and which ones can be traded off against each other in a political haggle.

Fjellner also noted that the parliament taking one year to come to a position “is by no means extreme”, and said that the original timetable had been “pretty tight”.

Indeed, the current directive, which the proposal aims to replace, was proposed in July 2003 and only adopted four years later, in September 2007.

Inquiry committee

Karima Delli, the author of the transport committee's opinion, gave a different perspective.

She said she had tried “from the very beginning” to make sure that the timetable for her committee's opinion ran parallel to that of the parliament's inquiry committee into the emissions scandal.

Several MEPs, like Delli, who sit in both committees wanted to make sure that the lessons drawn in that probe make their way into the reform proposal.

The picture that emerges from the Emis hearings is that there was a lack of independent oversight, and Delli, a left-wing French deputy who sits with the Green group, was among those that wanted an EU agency in charge of monitoring the sector.

“Apparently we were right to wait for Emis to draw its first and temporary conclusions, because we are close to a very good compromise regarding the European authority we've been asking for,” she told EUobserver via e-mail.

Member states

Member states also need more time to come to a common position.

The reform proposal is a “highly complex dossier”, said a diplomatic EU source.

As a result, technical talks by national experts will probably not finish on time for a ministerial meeting in Brussels on 28 November.

Initially it was expected that there would be a substantive debate by ministers, but a spokeswoman for the Slovak council presidency said the presidency would present a state of play report, “highlighting the issues where further discussions are needed”.

In particular the proposed increased EU oversight is a hot potato.

A second EU source said that there was “no appetite in capitals for more Europeanisation, no matter what file it is”.

"Countries with a strong automotive industry prefer to keep national control over type approvals, but there is also a general mood of uneasiness towards a Europeanisation of the type approval process.”

November's meeting is the last time this year that the competitiveness ministers meet.

A political discussion is needed so that the ministers can reach a common position based on which the presidency can negotiate with the EU parliament, who will be represented by MEP Dalton.

This article was updated on Wednesday 16 November to include comments from MEP Karima Delli

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