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4th Apr 2020

Investigation

EU to spend €1.6 million on car emissions tests

  • A Czech private garage carrying out emissions test (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The European Commission will make €1.6 million available next year to fund independent testing of cars, in the wake of the 'Dieselgate' scandal.

The money will come from the EU budget and has been requested by the European Parliament.

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The 2018 budget will be rubber-stamped by MEPs on Thursday (30 November).

It comes after widescale emissions cheating by German carmaker Volkswagen Group was brought to light in the United States through the reports of a non-governmental organisation, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) – and not by the responsible authorities in Europe.

The Dieselgate scandal highlighted that national market surveillance of car emissions in Europe was non-existent with a few exceptions.

The idea behind the fund is to help 'third parties' like ICCT to do tests on cars, to "contribute to better oversight on how exhaust standards are performing in practice".

"Funding should be made available to allow them [third parties] to provide reliable data from on-road emissions testing of passenger cars which is independent of the data provided by manufacturers and the regulatory authorities in order to promote transparency and improve market surveillance," the European Parliament text describing the project said.

"They will publish the results of their measurements in order to support the development of best practice procedures and the provision of broader information to the responsible authorities and the public."

The project was proposed by Luxembourgish Green MEP Claude Turmes, who was one of the members of the parliament inquiry committee into the emissions cheating scandal.

"Third parties were the ones that discovered the Dieselgate scandal and provided authorities on EU and national level with solid information on the cheating techniques of car manufacturers," Turmes told EUobserver in a written statement.

"The equipment to perform the tests can be very costly and third parties have been under increasing pressure from the car industry," he added

Turmes had originally proposed a figure of €2 million.

When proposing the project to the commission, Turmes acquired support from two other MEPs: Kathleen Van Brempt and Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy.

Centre-left Belgian Van Brempt was chairwoman of the inquiry committee, while Liberal Dutch Gerbrandy was co-author of the final report.

"We learned during the inquiry of Dieselgate that more emphasis must be laid on the independent testing of cars on the road," Van Brempt told EUobserver in an emailed statement.

She said third party checks on the road were "crucial" and referred to upcoming legislation related to the Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test.

The commission plans to propose that third parties can do emissions testing on the road. These third parties can be NGOs, but also cities or regions.

"This pilot project will provide extra money to ensure that it will be used broadly," said Van Brempt about the possibility of third parties to do testing.

Without funding, no Dieselgate discovery

The proposal has been added to the budget under a relatively low profile.

Peter Mock, managing director of ICCT's European division, said he did not know anything yet about the "pot of money".

"But what I can say is that if this was true, I think it would be good news," he told EUobserver in an email.

"I am convinced that independent third party testing, in parallel to testing carried out by well-equipped and well-staffed type-approval authorities, is crucial for ensuring that we won't face any defeat devices and emissions' [excesses] again in the future," he said.

Mock said ICCT received money from philanthropy, which allowed them to do the research that eventually led to US authorities' uncovering of VW's emissions fraud through defeat devices.

"Without funding for independent third party testing we would have never been able to carry out those measurements and most likely the defeat devices would have remained undetected," said Mock.

He added that additional tests would help identify loopholes and "provide an additional safety net".

Mock estimated that a "well-carried-out on-road and lab test" costs around €40,000 per vehicle.

That means that some forty cars could be tested through the €1.6 million budget.

However, Mock suggested that it could also be possible to spend part of that money on remote sensing, which measures car emissions in a comparable fashion to radar speed guns measuring speed.

Way to act

The commission was apparently happy to embrace the parliament's suggestion, as the EU budget is one of the few tools the EU executive has to act in this field.

Testing and approving of cars is currently mostly in the hands of the member states.

The commission has proposed a reform which would give it more power, but that file is still under negotiation between parliament and the Council of the EU, representing member states. The council does not want to transfer too much power to the EU level.

Under the current legal framework, the commission is not able to fine car companies.

The commission has also opened so-called infringement proceedings against six EU member states in relation to Dieselgate. This procedure can end up in fines for member states, but can take a long time.

Almost a year ago, on 8 December 2016, the commission sent letters to the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Spain and the United Kingdom – the Czechs and Lithuanians have since had their infringement notifications rescinded.

Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and the UK in particular were targeted because they had not punished Volkswagen Group for cheating – the four countries are responsible for certifying affected cars.

In July, the Commission sent another letter, to which it received replies, which it is currently still assessing.

Earlier this year a case against Italy had also been opened, about suspicions of cheating by Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles.

"I am proud that the European Parliament and the European Commission joined forces to support third parties and enable them to provide independent information on the emission behaviour of cars," said Turmes.

"Since member states are still reluctant to draw the lessons from Dieselgate and put in place a coherent type approval framework, this pilot project is a first and important step towards broader transparency and better market surveillance."

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".

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