Monday

16th Jul 2018

Commission ducks questions on VW scandal

  • Volkswagen expects tough times ahead (Photo: Ralph .)

The European Union's industry commissioner, Elzbieta Bienkowska, was fiercely criticised Tuesday (6 October) by members of the European Parliament for what some said was her “relaxed” response to the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which has affected 8 million diesel cars in the EU.

In a three-hour plenary debate in Strasbourg, Bienkowska received many questions, but answered few.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

The Polish centre-right politician did call the German car manufacturer's cheating on emissions tests “fraud”, and promised the commission would make sure it could not happen again.

She said the commission had no knowledge about the Volkswagen scandal, despite a publication by its own Joint Research Centre (JRC), which warned of the possible use of the cheating mechanisms known as defeat devices.

“The European Commission has not received any information before [the] official information of [US environmental agency] EPA. And not any piece of information was received by us, neither from EPA nor from any member state”, she said.

Reffering to the JRC publication, Bienkowska said it only indicated “that defeat devices could be one of the reasons of [the] big difference between emissions in the laboratory and on the road. Nothing more and only this.”

She rejected the request from several MEPs for an EU-wide investigation into emissions compliance.

“The commission does not have the power to carry out [its] own investigation in the automotive sector”, she said.

“We rely on the authorities of the member states. These institutions are professional. Let's not jeopardse what we have built together so far. A widespread feeling of mutual suspicion is not helping coherent and effective European action.”

Several member states, including France and Germany, have started investigations. Bienkowska told MEPs she had sent a letter to those countries that have not done so yet to “encourage” them to also start a probe.

But many MEPs said they did not share Bienkowska's confidence in national authorities.

Questions, questions

Bienkowska spoke twice, but answered few of the questions the MEPs asked, even though many of them she could have seen coming:

“How is it possible that the authorities did not discover these illegal devices over such a long period of time?”.

“How is it possible that these cars passed the tests?”.

“Why was this discovered in the US before it was in the EU?”.

“What about American and Asian cars?".

“What would happen if Volkswagen goes bankrupt?”.

This last question was also on the minds of several central and eastern European MEPs, because Volkswagen is an important employer in their countries. According to a study by an Austrian bank, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia would be hardest hit.

The company itself expects tough times to come, its new CEO told 20,000 employees in a quarterly gathering in Wolfsburg, where it is based, on Tuesday.

“The commercial and financial consequences are not yet foreseeable … One thing is certain: The burden will be big. Potentially very big”, said Volkswagen boss Matthias Mueller.

“We must prepare for significant penalties.”

Legal action is already underway. The US county Harris has demanded $100 million in damages.

In a letter to German MPs dated 2 October, Volkswagen acknowledged that 8 million diesel cars in the European Union were equipped with the illegal defeat devices, German paper Handelsblatt reported Tuesday.

It said Volkswagen would recall the cars and “obvisouly cover the costs”.

Sense of urgency

In Strasbourg, several MEPs from the centre-left and left part of the parliament said Bienkowska was missing a “sense of urgency”.

“'We're on top of it, sleep well parliament, don't be afraid.' That's how I summarise your speech”, said Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout.

At the end of the three-hour drilling, Bienkowska had to be reminded by Dutch Liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy that she had not committed to send parliament the answers to their questions in writing.

The commissioner apologised and said “of course” the MEPs will receive “a written answer to all ... questions”.

Parliament will vote on a resolution about the scandal at a plenary session later this month.

News in Brief

  1. VW owners to get diesel software update free until 2020
  2. Airbnb breaches EU consumer rules, Commission says
  3. EU sees no China free-trade talks
  4. Italy accepts migrant boat after help promises
  5. EU opens case on Siemens' Alstom buyout
  6. Trump: May found my Brexit advice 'too brutal'
  7. Italy will reject EU-Canada trade deal, says deputy PM
  8. Commission: Juncker suffered from sciatica attack at Nato

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  2. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  3. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK
  4. EU and China edge closer in Trump's 'America First' world
  5. How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism
  6. Stage set for Trump-Putin finale
  7. Trump scuppers trade deal with UK under May's Brexit
  8. Trump wades into Brexit after Nato fiasco

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us