21st Mar 2018


European maladministration helped cause Dieselgate

  • German transport minister Dobrindt (r) appearing as witness in the inquiry committee (Photo: European Parliament)

An inquiry committee of the European Parliament has found that member states broke EU law by failing to implement rules on car emissions.

The committee, which investigated the role of EU and national authorities in events leading up to Dieselgate, also identified five accounts of maladministration by member states, and three cases of maladministration by the European Commission, it said in a draft report to be published on Monday (19 December).

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  • French environment minister Royal arrives, late, for her hearing. The inquiry committee named France as one of the countries slowing down work on a better emissions test (Photo: European Parliament)

The committee concluded that national governments should have done more to check cars for cheating software before German carmaker Volkswagen Group admitted to having used them in September 2015 in a scandal that came to be called Dieselgate.

“The member states’ failure to organise an efficient market surveillance system constitutes a contravention of EU law,” the report said.

Contravention, the text said, “implies the existence of illegal conduct, namely an action or omission in breach of the law”.

Most member states did not adopt “an effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalty system” to deter or punish carmakers' use of illegal cheating software.

National authorities also showed “poor or failed administration” by: not trying to better understand why emissions on the road were so much higher than in the laboratory tests; not having investigated potential conflicts of interests in the companies that test car emissions; not adequately auditing those test laboratories; and by not keeping the EU commission up to date on which national bodies were in charge of market surveillance.

The committee also concluded that there was maladministration in most member states, apart from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Denmark and Spain, because they did not actively take part in a working group that prepared the new on-road emissions test.

That group was dominated by car industry representatives.

The draft report said France, Italy and Spain have helped to delay the introduction of the new test.

It also took aim at the EU commission.

The conclusions said that the commission should have chosen earlier on to use so-called portable emissions measurement systems to measure on-road pollution. The EU executive should have taken “meaningful and complete minutes” of the working group meetings.

The commission should also have supervised the deadlines by which national governments had to report on the penalties.

The report was written by two MEPs, centre-right German Jens Gieseke, and Liberal Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy from the Netherlands.

In a press release on Monday, Gerbrandy was more direct than in the report.

“Dieselgate would not have happened if our national governments and the European Commission would have acted on their legal and administrative responsibilities,” the parliamentarian said.

“Our investigation points out that unnecessary delays in decision-making, negligence and maladministration have contributed to making this fraud possible.”

The conclusions can still be amended by the committee's MEPs.

The report will also issue recommendations, which can be amended by the committee's MEPs, as well as by the whole plenary of the EU parliament.

The draft recommendations include calling on the commission to make one commissioner responsible for air quality and car emissions.

Currently the air quality file is part of the environment commissioner's portfolio, while car emissions fall under his or her industry counterpart.

Dieselgate: MEPs want to give EU more testing powers

EU Commission should have power to veto national car testing programmes, MEPs in lead committee agreed. Meanwhile EU commissioner Bienkowska says member states have learned little from emissions crisis.

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