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29th Mar 2020

Investigation

Leak: EU states weaken post-Dieselgate testing

  • Member states want their authorities to double-check cars' conformity on the road much less often than the EU parliament suggests (Photo: Toyota UK)

The EU's national governments continue to defend only a mild overhaul of the car approvals system, compared to the deeper reform advocated by the European Commission and European Parliament.

Confidential documents, seen by this website, show that the governments, acting through the Council of the EU, aim to water down reforms proposed by the European Commission in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal, more than two years ago.

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The three sides will meet again on Thursday (23 November) in a so-called trilogue format, in an attempt to find a compromise between their versions of the legislation.

Common ground has already been found on large swaths of the legislative proposal, but some key disagreements remain.

The European Parliament wants to include the legal requirement that each country which approves cars also does post-certification checks on 20 percent of all car types approved there.

The Council however wants such extra checks to occur only for one in every 50,000 new vehicles, with only one in 200,000 new vehicles, or 0.0005 percent, tested on their emissions.

Per year several million new vehicles are registered in the EU, but only a few hundred types. The Council's version would allow member states to focus their extra tests on many cars of the same type.

A lack of checks by member states on actual emissions, instead of those measured in the laboratory, are at the heart of the 'Dieselgate' scandal, which saw millions of diesel cars designed in a way to fool the laboratory test.

It was discovered in the US in September 2015, after the EU and its member states failed to set up a working market surveillance system.

In January 2016, the Commission proposed a reform to remedy that situation.

Only if the three EU institutions can come to an agreement, will the proposal become law.

There is agreement that the Commission should be able to impose fines on carmakers that have cheated, but the Council wants to limit the conditions under which the Commission can do so. Negotiators have not yet found a compromise solution.

They also remain at loggerheads over how often the national authority granting the approval for car types should be audited.

The Commission proposed at least every four years; the Parliament at least every three years; the Council at least every five years.

The member states are willing to accept a requirement to publish a summary report of their findings of the type approval authority assessment.

However, they refuse to include figures on how many cars from which brands they tested - which is something MEPs want.

The negotiators are walking a tightrope. Even though they have received a mandate from their institutions, the final text still needs to be adopted by a vote.

When the Council adopted its negotiating mandate in May 2017, Greece's economy minister, Alexandros Charitsis warned their negotiator ahead of the talks.

"Even a small change could undermine the very delicate balance which has been struck in the general approach [the compromise text agreed by governments]," he said.

Ahead of the governments' agreement, there had been fierce opposition to increased EU oversight by Germany, which has a sizeable car industry, and is home to Volkswagen Group, the company whose emissions cheating started the Dieselgate scandal.

Interview

Dieselgate disappointed car-loving commissioner

Industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska often finds herself on opposite sides to the car industry, referring to diesel engines as the "technology of the past".

Ministers water down post-Dieselgate reform

The EU commission wanted the power to hand out fines to cheating automakers, but the council limited the instances in which the commission can do so.

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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