Sunday

11th Dec 2016

Dieselgate committee rejects 'witch-hunt' gibe

  • From left to right: Chairwoman Kathleen Van Brempt (Flemish), vice-chair Ivo Belet (Flemish), vice-chair Mark Demesmaeker (Flemish), and Karima Delli (French) (Photo: European Parliament)

The newly appointed chairwoman of the European Parliament's inquiry into the “dieselgate” scandal, where car companies cheated in emissions tests, has rejected accusations that her committee could become a witch-hunt against the car industry.

Centre-left Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt, who was appointed as the committee's chairwoman without a vote on Wednesday (2 March), said she would not have accepted leadership of a "naming and shaming committee".

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  • EPP member Karins said his group will "prevent this committee from becoming what could be termed as a witch-hunt" (Photo: European Parliament)

The committee will investigate how much the European Commission and national governments knew about the use of illegal software that allowed firms like Volkswagen to cheat in emissions tests, a scandal that was uncovered by US authorities.

“I am interested in finding out what went wrong with the implementation of the legislation, the supervision of that legislation,” she said.

“How is it possible that this was discovered in the United States, and not by our own European authorities?”

She was responding to comments made by Latvian MEP Krisjanis Karins, a member of the centre-right EPP.

He said the EPP would “do its utmost to prevent this committee from becoming what could be termed as a witch-hunt, either against industry or against diesel technologies where Europe has a competitive advantage in the world”.

'Unhelpful' language

After the meeting, EUobserver asked Karins to explain the origin of his group's fear of a witch-hunt.

“We have spoken with all of our colleagues from all political groups for a long time, regarding these issues. There are various strong statements coming from some active members in this committee that are pointing in just this direction,” said Karins.

When asked to name those members, Karins only said: “I think that will become pretty clear as time goes on.”

Seb Dance, from the socialist group, said it was “unhelpful to use such politically charged terms before the committee has even begun its work”.

“It shows that there will be challenges ahead, most definitely in terms of the perception from within the committee of its remit, but no, it's most definitely not a witch-hunt,” the Labour politician said.

“We are here to look at the relationship between the automotive sector, and the institutions of the European Union, to make sure that we have a situation where the public can have trust in the automotive industry.”

'Build bridges'

Van Brempt was one of three Belgians, all from the Dutch-speaking Flanders region, appointed to lead the committee.

Ivo Belet from the centre-right EPP group, and Mark Demesmaeker, from the conservative ECR group, will serve as vice-chairs.

The other two vice-chairs are Czech communist MEP Katerina Konecna and French Green Karima Delli.

Van Brempt told this website that the Flemish connection was a coincidence.

But she said a possible asset was that Flemish politicians had become used to “building bridges and finding compromises”, something that would be a requirement to end up with a “strong report”.

Alternative inquiry

But other MEPs questioned whether the committee's mandate went far enough.

The three committee members from the far-left European United Left/Nordic Green Left group told a press conference that they would hold a parallel investigation, because they were “disappointed” in the breadth of the inquiry committee's mandate.

“Unfortunately, the mandate given to the inquiry committee leaves out important issues, such as the responsibility of the enterprises, as well as the workers' rights and their future,” Cypriot MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis said.

Katerina Konecna said her group would “dig deep into this shameful scandal”. However, their “emission working group” would not have the same investigative powers as the official inquiry committee, of which Konecna is one of the vice-chairs.

“We just have to use all the power and all those instruments we have to find out what is the situation in the companies with those people who are working inside it,” said her Finnish colleague Merja Kyllonen, adding that they would “visit different countries” and invite guests to speak at seminars.

Meanwhile, the inquiry committee will have its first substantive meeting on Tuesday 22 March, during which it will lay out its methodology. Ahead of that meeting, the political groups' coordinators will meet next week in Strasbourg.

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