Monday

23rd Apr 2018

Investigation

Dieselgate 'omerta' banned EU experts from speaking to press

  • A car being equipped with a portable emissions measurement system at the EU's Joint Research Centre. (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Scientists working for the emissions laboratory at the EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC) were not allowed to discuss Dieselgate with the press, two anonymous sources close to the institute told EUobserver.

"When the scandal broke, there was an omerta within the JRC," one of the sources said. "No one was allowed to answer questions from journalists."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Two years ago on Monday (18 September), US authorities announced that Volkswagen had equipped diesel vehicles with software that allowed them to recognise when they were being assessed in a laboratory and switch to a cleaner mode during tests. Of the 11 million affected cars worldwide, 8.5 million were sold in Europe.

The scandal put a spotlight on the JRC, which has a world renowned vehicle emissions testing facility.

The JRC had published reports outlining the risk of the use of cheating software - so-called defeat devices - in 2011 and 2013.

It later emerged that JRC staff had found suspiciously high emissions levels, long before the Dieselgate scandal had become public. Top EU officials told the European Parliament that these signals never reached them.

Scientists are 'subordinates'

When looking back on the months after the scandal broke, the two sources described a "tense" atmosphere.

"What I learned [after Dieselgate] was that this is not like a university with full freedom of research, but a hierarchical government organisation, where one needs to be able to follow orders," one source said, adding that JRC employees are "subordinates".

It is not entirely clear if the ban on speaking to the press came from JRC's director, or from higher up in the European Commission, in Brussels.

However, the omerta did have a chilling effect on some scientific research.

At least one scientist was unsure if he was allowed to share emissions data with his colleagues, and did so without informing his superiors. However, the sources also noted that there was no censorship.

Mandate

During a hearing at the EU parliament, one JRC official explained that they never investigated further into the discrepancy between nitrogen oxide emissions on the road and in the lab, because it didn't have the mandate.

The two anonymous sources said that the mandate plays an important part in the JRC's daily work, and a desire to please the EU commission, of which the JRC is a directorate-general.

One of them said that the JRC lacked "an encouraging atmosphere to do thorough research" beyond its mandate.

The JRC was never responsible for checking whether automakers were cheating on emissions tests, because EU member states never relinquished that power to the EU level.

Last year, MEPs in the parliament's inquiry committee into the scandal criticised the JRC practice of only publishing anonymous data on suspicious cars, making it difficult for the responsible national authorities to follow up.

But one of the sources noted that he was "not aware that there was a barrier between type approval authorities and the JRC".

The JRC "had never received a request from the [German type approval authority] KBA to share data," the contact said.

EU legislators are currently negotiating on a piece of legislation that would give JRC the power to investigate emissions as an additional check to the national authorities' work.

But one of the anonymous sources noted that while the JRC has the technical capabilities to carry out such checks, it still is part of the EU commission.

"And the European Commission is a political organisation. There will always be the risk of political influence."

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights