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25th Mar 2017

Investigation

EU states dodge comment on damning emissions report

  • Diesel cars have for years polluted EU cities. According to a draft report from the EU parliament, national governments share the blame (Photo: EUobserver)

Slovak environment minister Laszlo Solymos refused to comment on the draft conclusions of the European Parliament's Dieselgate inquiry, which said that national governments acted against EU law and showed “maladministration” by not doing enough to prevent emissions cheating.

Slovakia holds the rotating six-month EU Council presidency, but Solymos did not wish to speak on behalf of the member states when EUobserver asked him to comment at a press conference on Monday (19 December).

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The European Parliament's inquiry committee on car emissions earlier on Monday published its critical draft report, which mostly took aim at the EU's national governments, although it also said the European Commission was partly to blame.

EU states broke EU law by failing to organise a system of market surveillance and did not put enough effort into understanding why emissions were so much higher in real life when compared to the official test results, the committee concluded.

Effectively, the report said member states shared responsibility for the Volkswagen scandal, which involved the German carmaker's cheating on emissions tests. But it is not just VW cars that are using tricks to emit more than they are allowed.

As a result, millions of diesel cars are polluting beyond the EU limit - affecting the health of hundreds or thousands of EU citizens.

A spokeswoman for the presidency noted that the press conference was supposed to be “about the outcomes of the environment council”, which is where environment ministers meet, and did not grant a follow-up question.

She later sent EUobserver a written statement, noting that the Slovak deputy minister responsible for transport will appear in the EU parliament's inquiry committee (known as EMIS) in mid-January 2017.

"This appearance will be an appropriate opportunity to comment and to respond to questions from the EMIS committee members," she said.

The two EU commissioners present did want to give a short comment.

Karmenu Vella (environment) said he agreed that “it is the responsibility of the member states at the end”. Miguel Arias Canete (energy and climate) said the commission “is already acting on this”.

“The commission had addressed the member states to verify if the regulatory bodies who are in charge of certification have acted according to law, and we are acting on it,” said Canete.

The MEPs' draft report said that “some member states, including in particular France, Italy and Spain, acted on several occasions to delay the adoption process of the RDE tests and favour less stringent testing methods”.

The real-driving emissions (RDE) test was developed since 2011.

After the press conference, this website approached Canete, who was Spain's environment and agriculture minister from 2011 to 2014, in Spain's centre-right government led by Mariano Rajoy.

“I was not member of industry, which is the relevant department. I was not minister responsible of that dossier,” he said.

“As minister, I was minister of agriculture and environment, but not responsible for emissions of industry. It was not my portfolio, it's not my responsibility.”

With that, he illustrated perfectly a problem that the parliament committee's draft report identified.

Air quality, which has effects on environment and human health, is usually in the portfolio of environment ministers, while car emissions are the responsibility of industry ministers.

The same holds for the European Commission.

In the years running up to the 2015 revelation of the Volkswagen scandal, the EU's environmental directorate-general asked its industrial counterpart for an investigation into suspicious emissions behaviour. But that request was never granted.

One of the recommendations in the parliament's draft report is that the EU commission internal structure should be changed so that “the portfolio of one single commissioner (and directorate-general) includes at the same time the responsibility for air quality legislation and for policies addressing the sources of pollutant emissions”.

Canete did not want to comment if he thought that was a good idea. “I already achieved merging energy and climate in one portfolio,” he said.

The Slovak minister's decision not to comment was reminiscent of what happened at an earlier Council press conference.

In June, the Dutch minister for infrastructure and environment dodged critical questions on the role of national authorities in the scandal.

She referred to “member states” as if she did not represent one of them.

This article was updated on Monday 19 December, 19:23, to include the written statement from the Slovak presidency

Analysis

EU governments duck responsibility on dieselgate

If VW had cheated on emissions in the Netherlands, its fine would have been just €19,500. “I didn't think about the fines before,” the Dutch transport minister says.

End company-car perks, says EU commission

The European Commission tells member states that they should phase out tax breaks for privately used company cars and put in place low-emission zones to improve air quality.

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