Thursday

30th Mar 2017

Investigation

Royal promoted staff despite 'wrong' emissions vote

  • French environment minister Royal has publicly criticised how the French delegation voted in an October 2015 meeting in Brussels (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

There have been no negative consequences for the careers of French officials who environment minister Segolene Royal blamed on Thursday (24 November) for supporting a proposal in Brussels she later publicly rejected. In fact, Royal gave one of them a promotion five months later, EUobserver has found.

On 28 October 2015, the French delegation agreed during a meeting of the Technical Committee on Motor Vehicles (TCMV) in Brussels to a compromise proposal that would allow cars to significantly exceed emissions limits.

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On Thursday, Royal speaking to members of the European Parliament investigating the Dieselgate scandal, disavowed what her representatives had agreed to.

Instead of taking political responsibility for the decision, the French minister blamed her own staff, saying they were acting on outdated instructions.

EUobserver found that the two officials who represented France during that TCMV meeting were Helene Peskine and Cedric Messier.

Peskine has been a member of Royal's cabinet since she became environment minister in April 2014.

At the time of the TCMV meeting, Peskine was advisor on energy transition, climate, eco-mobility, and sustainable building.

But in March 2016, five months after Peskine went against what Royal claimed were her wishes, she was promoted to assistant director of Royal's cabinet.

Messier, meanwhile, still holds his post as head of the passenger vehicles unit at Royal's ministry, a job he has had since July 2015.

Moreover, a month before the vote, there was a meeting in France about car pollutant emissions presided by Royal, which Messier attended, and where the minister would have had the opportunity to stress to Messier how he should vote.

At ministerial level

On Thursday, the French minister said that the decision should have been taken at ministerial level and not through the TCMV.

But it was the EU council, where member states meet, and the European Parliament who decided in 2007 to empower the European Commission to legislate through the committee.

In the October 2015 meeting about the introduction of a new on-road test to measure emissions in cars the committee decided that the new test would come into force in September 2017, but that car manufacturers would be given some lead time to adapt to the new test.

Until 2020, they will be allowed to exceed EU emission limits by a factor of 2.1. After that, they will be allowed to by a factor of 1.5.

At Thursday's parliament hearing, Royal acted as if the decision took her by surprise, but one EU source noted that there was a meeting of environment ministers in Luxembourg two days before the TCMV met.

“Royal was not unaware that this was coming,” a contact said.

At the ministerial, the commission told ministers of the state-of-play of the TCMV negotiations, as requested by several member states, including France.

Following the ministerial, Royal looked set to tell a journalist France would support the commission's more ambitious position, instead saying France would take "the most environmentally-friendly" approach.

One regular participant at TCMV meetings told EUobserver they were surprised at Royal's disavowing of her staff.

“During the October 2015 meeting, France had sent officials of a higher level than usual, people I had not seen before,” the source said.

“I thought that meant the minister was on top of it.”

A second TCMV source noted that, despite Royal claiming in the parliament hearing that “French environmental policy has changed”, the French delegation “has not changed its position” since October 2015.

Dieselgate report 'cannot be ignored'

“Dieselgate could have been avoided if member states and the Commission had followed European law. That is quite something,” rapporteur said.

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