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27th Jan 2023

Brussels wants oversight on national car approvals

  • The Commission wants member states to exchange the results of their car tests with each other. (Photo: Infinite Ache)

The European Commission is eyeing new powers over the car industry, as it is prepares a proposal to create central oversight of national vehicle authorisations.

In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung paper Thursday (5 November) the Commission wants to monitor the national authorities that approve new cars before they are allowed on the market.

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  • Bienkowska: 'We intend to check and verify whether the national authorities are working properly' (Photo: European Commission)

“The approval systems of the member states have failed. We intend to check and verify whether the national authorities are working properly," the Polish commissioner was quoted as saying.

She also said member states should exchange results of their car tests with each other.

Since approval from one authorisations agency is valid in all 28 member states, car companies can choose the most lenient body. None of the agencies had discovered that Volkswagen had been using defeat devices to cheat on emissions tests.

“We have 28 European agencies for certification. They compete. We have more than 50 certification test labs. They compete. And nobody controls them," emissions testing expert Axel Friedrich said recently.

"We make laws, but no enforcement", he added. The Commission now appears ready to increase enforcement.

Although details of the plan will not be made public until next month, the announcement in the German newspaper was “warmly welcomed” by NGO Transport & Environment, which has been critical of the current system of car emissions testing.

“There is widespread evidence of systematic manipulation of car tests and that national type approval authorities have failed to do their job. The system is not fit for purpose and we are delighted the Commission agrees it needs a major overhaul,' the NGO said in a statement.

The Commission's plan will need approval from the member states and the European Parliament, with the former being the most tricky.

Countries with car industries have proven susceptible to lobbyists, and the past decade has seen an increased reluctance in European capitals to “give up power” to Brussels.

Bienkowska is currently in Germany to meet with economy minister Sigmar Gabriel and transport minister Alexander Dobrindt.

Germany, with its large car industry, but also suffering reputational damage from the Volkswagen scandal, will be a key country to persuade.

For its part, the European Parliament has already expressed its desire for “greater EU oversight”, in a resolution adopted in Strasbourg last week.

A large majority of 493 of 751 MEPs supported the text.

Meanwhile, French environment minister Segolene Royal said Friday that her country had started a random test of cars on emissions.

In the first batch of 10 cars, the researchers found that Volkswagen cars exceeded emission limits five times, she told France Info radio.

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