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6th Apr 2020

Political fight among MEPs delays Dieselgate probe

  • Group leaders Gianni Pittella (left, S&D), and Manfred Weber (right, EPP) disagree about who should lead the emissions committee. (Photo: European Parliament)

A dispute between the two largest political groups in the European Parliament is delaying the work of an inquiry committee that will investigate the role of the EU and member states in the Volkswagen scandal.

It is now two months since the parliament decided in plenary to set up the Emissions Measurements in the Automotive Sector committee, but it has yet to hold its first meeting.

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  • Will Belgian centre-left MEP Kathleen Van Brempt be the commission's chairperson? (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs that are members of the committee have been left in limbo about when they will begin their work as political leaders from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) groups try to find agreement on who should be the chairperson of the committee.

The committee will look into whether national governments and the European Commission tried hard enough to prevent car companies from cheating on emission tests.

Sources in the European Parliament told this website that the S&D wants Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt to lead the committee, while the EPP favours Latvian parliamentarian Krisjanis Karins.

“There is a quarrel between the EPP and the S&D about how to divide the work,” Dutch MEP Wim van de Camp told this website. He is one of the EPP members of the committee.

"[S&D leader Gianni] Pittella and [EPP leader Manfred] Weber do not agree yet," he said.

The S&D offered the EPP to have one of their members share the title of co-rapporteur with a parliamentarian from the Liberals group, which for the EPP is not enough.

“The EPP is the largest group, so we want the chairperson or the rapporteur,” added Van de Camp. The chairperson will lead the committee, while the rapporteur will write the final report.

“The EPP wants a lot of things,” said socialist member Van Brempt.

Negotiations

She told this website she didn't want to negotiate via the media, but did note the EPP “were against setting up the committee”.

Other sources in the EP say that the socialists do not want to give an important title like chairperson or rapporteur to a member of the group that predominantly voted against the establishment of the committee in December.

Of the 45 members of the committee, a third did not want it to be established in the first place.

But for committee member Julie Girling, of the right-wing ECR group, that is not a valid argument.

Most of the members of her political group also voted against setting up the inquiry committee.

“That doesn't mean we're not participating with full energy and attention,” she told this website.

Centre-right MEP Van de Camp also dismissed suggestions that those who had initially voted against its creation would obstruct the process.

“We are going to be professionals,” he said.

Negotiations are still ongoing. On Wednesday afternoon (17 February), the socialists had an internal meeting during which they discussed the issue.

The two largest political groups in the parliament, who have a majority together, often cooperate as informal coalition partners, which may explain why they want to resolve the issue bilaterally. But formally, the negotiations are not necessary.

No timetable

The chairperson will be selected by a vote in the so-called constituent meeting of the committee. Instead of arranging a deal before the meeting, they could let the 45 members of the committee vote.

"Eventually we could," said Van Brempt. But for now, the two groups are trying to reach a deal behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, MEPs and their assistants are left in the dark.

“We don't know,” several of them said when asked when the first meeting would be.

“We have no timetable,” noted left-wing Czech MEP Katerina Konecna, one the committee's members. “You know more rumours than I do,” said centre-left British MEP Seb Dance, adding he wants “to get on with it”.

The emissions committee is the fourth inquiry committee in the history of the European Parliament. It has already set a record. The three previous committees had their first meetings respectively 35, 48, and 16 days after they were established by the plenary.

Wednesday (17 February) marks the 64th day since the decision was taken to establish the emissions committee.

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