5th Dec 2023

EU court rejects VW defence in 'Dieselgate' scandal

  • German chancellor Angela Merkel with Volkswagen (VW) car (Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler)

German car maker Volkswagen (VW) deliberately cheated EU emissions tests by installing "defeat devices", the EU's top court has ruled, rejecting the firm's claim the technology was meant to protect engines.

"A defeat device which systematically improves, during approval procedures, the performance of the vehicle emission control system so as to observe the emission limits set by [EU law]" cannot be excused on grounds it "contributes to preventing the ageing or clogging up of the engine," the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said on Thursday (17 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The "device" in question "detects and guarantees that emission limits are observed only when those conditions correspond to those applied during approval procedures", which were different to those during "normal driving conditions", the court added.

"In order to be justified, the presence of such a device must allow the engine to be protected against sudden and exceptional damage" or "immediate risks of damage which give rise to a specific hazard," the court noted.

And the EU emissions law would be "rendered meaningless and deprived of any useful effect" if car makers, such as VW, were entitled to install the devices "with the sole aim of guarding the engine against clogging", the court said.

The ruling harked back to one of the biggest scandals in the EU single market in modern times, known as "Dieselgate".

It broke in 2015 when the US Environmental Protection Agency detected the cheat devices in VW vehicles.

The German company later admitted to fitting them in 11 million cars worldwide, including millions in Europe.

It has already cost the firm €30bn in fines and civil settlements and led to mass-scale vehicle recalls.

The EU court case stemmed from one in France, in which the Paris prosecutor's office was investigating whether VW had knowingly deceived its customers.

The EU court, earlier this year, also ruled that customers could sue the German company in their home countries, instead of in Germany, facilitating litigation, as the financial and reputational harm from the fiasco continued to drag out.

Dieselgate also implicated German car manufacturer Audi, amid signs of wider abuse in the industry.

And Thursday's EU verdict was welcomed by environmental activists.

"This landmark ruling is good news for getting cleaner air in Europe," Jens Müller, from Transport & Environment, an NGO umbrella group, told the AP news agency.

It meant that "national authorities can't allow carmakers to prioritise profits over our health anymore. Now there are no more excuses: Manipulated cars must be fixed and consumers must be compensated across Europe," Müller said.

The "consumer-friendly" EU ruling would act as a guide for national authorities' investigations into malpractice all over Europe, Claus Goldenstein, a German consumer lawyer, also told the Bloomberg news agency.

But the EU court verdict did not comment on financial compensation for cheat-car owners, prompting VW to say it would have no impact on ongoing legal disputes, AP reported.


Porsche told EU not to publish diesel emission result

The EU Commission has kept results of an emissions test of a Porsche diesel vehicle secret for months, at the request of the German car company - which was fined €535m for its role in the Dieselgate scandal.

VW emissions software was illegal, top EU lawyer says

Volkswagen used software to alter emissions illegally, according to the European advocate-general on Thursday. The German carmaker installed devices that could detect when the car would be subjected to testing - which would then distort parameters to show lower emissions.

EU demands Volkswagen compensate all EU purchasers

The EU Commission demanded the German carmaker compensate purchasers in all member states for misleading them about vehicle emissions. Until now, Volkswagen has only compensated consumers in Germany.

Platform workers could face 'robo-firing' under EU's AI rules

The platform workers directive, currently under negotiation, could create "ambiguity" on the processing of personal data by the platform and would also violate the GDPR by including the use of so-called robo-firing, research shows.

Latest News

  1. Afghanistan is a 'forever emergency,' says UN head
  2. EU public procurement reform 'ineffective', find auditors
  3. COP28 warned over-relying on carbon capture costs €27 trillion
  4. Optimising Alzheimer's disease health care pathways across Europe
  5. Georgian far-right leader laughs off potential EU sanctions
  6. The EU's U-turn on caged farm animals — explained
  7. EU-China summit and migration files in focus This WEEK
  8. COP28 debates climate finance amid inflated accounting 'mess'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  3. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  4. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  5. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  6. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us