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20th Apr 2018

Investigation

Dieselgate witness contradicts EU commission on test evidence

  • Where are the commission's missing e-mails on suspicious emissions behaviour? (Photo: Marcin Wichary)

Giovanni de Santi, a high-ranking official of the EU's science body, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), told MEPs on Thursday (1 December) that minutes were taken of meetings about a new on-road emission test, in contradiction to what the European Commission told EUobserver.

The meeting in the European Parliament also saw a heated exchange between the JRC's chief Vladimir Sucha and Green MEP Claude Turmes from Luxembourg, accusing each other of lying in raised voices.

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  • JRC's head Sucha was accused of preventing MEPs access to e-mails, an accussation Sucha refuted (Photo: European Commission)

The exchange took place in the context of the parliament's inquiry committee into the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

The committee is looking into whether European institutions could have been expected to do more to prevent or detect the German carmakers' cheating on emissions tests.

The role of the JRC is important because it was involved in discussions about a more accurate emissions test.

The discussions, which took place in the commission-chaired Real Driving Emissions (RDE) working group, were delayed because car industry representatives were given the opportunity to repeatedly raise objections.

The commission told EUobserver in a response to a freedom of information requests that no minutes were kept of the meetings, because the commission did not see the “added value”.

De Santi, who in that period was in charge of the JRC's Vehicle Emissions Laboratories, told MEPs records were kept.

“The minutes are there. We took minutes about all the discussions, all the conclusions,” he said.

It took almost two years for the working group, which relied heavily on participants from the car industry, to reach a decision on the method for testing.

“We did not reach any kind of consensus among the participants in the RDE group, up until October 2012,” said De Santi.

But as Liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy pointed out, some 60 percent of the participants came from the car industry, who may not have been interested in reaching consensus quickly.

De Santi noted that the issue was also “very difficult politically”, referring to a technical committee of member state representatives who had to take the final decision.

Before De Santi's testimony, his boss Vladimir Sucha was questioned.

He was accused by MEP Turmes for preventing the inquiry committee to see certain e-mails.

The committee had asked for all e-mail and letter exchanges between the JRC and commission directorates-general on industry, environment, and climate, concerning car emissions testing and legislation.

“We have not received a single mail in the whole period January 2010 - November 2010,” said Turmes.

If no e-mails were sent in that period, that would be quite “odd”, the committee's chairwoman Kathleen Van Brempt noted.

Indeed, it was in that period that the JRC prepared a report which it presented in November 2010 to the commission and member states, which led to the creation of the aforementioned RDE working group.

“I would really love to see your evidence for what you are saying now,” Sucha responded to Turmes' accusation that he had “blocked” e-mails from reaching the MEPs.

“I hope you are not in the post-fact society where everybody is saying whatever without the evidence,” he added, before both men interrupted each other with raised voices.

According to Van Brempt, the committee sent another request to the commission on Thursday morning.

“The commission says that they are still looking and looking,” said Van Brempt.

A third witness said something which may explain the missing e-mails, although it would be quite worrying.

“We have a system to archive the e-mails that are considered important and relevant,” said Giorgio Martini, who works at the JRC's Vehicle Emissions Laboratories.

“Then we have an automatic system deleting the e-mails older than six months. If you do not have saved this mails in folders, you will lose them.”

It later emerged that the e-mail system to which Martini referred has been in place only since July 2015. This means it cannot explain the missing e-mails from 2010.

This article was updated on Monday 5 December to add the last paragraph

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.

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