Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Political deal done on EU oversight of car emissions

  • The European Commission will have the legal obligation to check if national authorities do a satisfactory job testing emissions (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The European Commission gained the right to check cars for emissions cheating on Thursday (7 December), more than two years after the beginning of the 'Dieselgate' scandal.

Just after noon on Thursday, the EU executive reached a deal on a reform of the EU's car type approval system with the European Parliament and the Council of the EU – representing national governments.

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.

... or join as a group

"We know that some car manufacturers were cheating and many others were exploiting loopholes," EU commissioner for industry Elzbieta Bienkowska said in a press release.

"To put an end to this, we are overhauling the whole system."

Bienkowska said that the "key elements" of what the commission proposed in January 2016 had been upheld, "including real EU oversight and enforcement powers".

Following the revelation in September 2015 that German car company Volkswagen Group had equipped some 8.5 million diesel cars with a software code that cheated the official emissions test, the commission proposed more EU oversight in a system that is still very much in the hands of the member states' authorities.

'May' vs 'shall'

The commission proposed legislation which said baldly that it "shall" carry out tests and inspections.

Member states, through the council, resisted this for months, saying that the bill should only say that the commission "may" do such tests. In the end, they agreed to the first, prescriptive version.

The commission will be able to fine companies up to €30,000 per vehicle if cheating software is detected, but the exact circumstances are not yet clear.

The council also got some of what it wanted.

Before Dieselgate broke, there was no real market surveillance of cars in Europe to speak of.

The new bill will explicitly lay out requirements for national market surveillance authorities.

MEPs had wanted to require that authorities in a specific country double-check 20 percent of all cars they approved.

The council however wanted checks for one in every 50,000 new vehicles, which in practice would be much less than what MEPs suggested.

Member states also wanted only one in every 200,000 new vehicles tested on their emissions.

The final deal amounts to checks for one in every 40,000 new vehicles, but the final share of cars facing extra testing on emissions remained the same: 0.0005 percent.

Brussels-based consumer umbrella organisation Beuc said in a press release that the requirements were less than they and MEPs wanted, but "nevertheless a step forward compared to the current situation".

Estonian economy minister Kadri Simon said it was "a balanced deal which delivers the necessary reforms".

"This new framework will help restore the credibility of the car sector. It will set up a transparent system with proper supervision, improve coordination at different levels and harmonise the application of EU rules," he said in a press release.

British MEP Daniel Dalton, a Conservative, called the deal the "final step in fixing a broken system which let down millions of people around Europe".

"Make no mistake, in future any manufacturers trying to cheat the system will be found out and properly punished," Dalton said.

However, environmental lobby group Transport & Environment said that new legislation alone is not enough.

"If the European Commission doesn't keep a tight grip on national car regulators and check their work robustly and regularly, dieselgate will happen again," it said.

The deal comes a day after former Volkswagen top official Oliver Schmidt was sentenced to seven years in jail and a $400,000 fine in the United States.

Schmidt had plead guilty to defrauding the US government.

US authorities have also come to a multibillion dollar settlement with Volkswagen which, by contrast, refused to pay any compensation for its cheating in the EU.

The EU countries responsible for approving the cars with illegal software however, have never fined Volkswagen Group (VW) or its subsidiaries.

The commission has started a legal procedure against these countries, including Germany, but since it started one year ago it has only consisted of letters being sent back and forth.

Last month, VW received a €450,000 fine – the highest amount possible – for misleading customers, from the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets.

The deal still needs approval by the national governments and the plenary of the EU parliament.

A press release published on Thursday said that the plenary vote could be scheduled as late as April 2018.

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".

Investigation

EU states forsook oversight on car emissions

An EUobserver investigation and EU parliament testimony paint a gloomy picture of how EU national authorities neglected to implement clean air car laws.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us