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4th Mar 2024

MEPs to probe what EU knew on Dieselgate

  • Did commission do enough to make sure illegal software was not used? (Photo: Volkswagen)

The European Parliament decided on Thursday (17 December) to set up an inquiry committee into the role of the European Commission and EU member states in the Volkswagen emission scandal, informally known as Dieselgate.

At a plenary session in Strasbourg, 354 MEPs voted in favour of the investigative body. Two hundred and twenty nine voted against, and 35 abstained.

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The committee, which will consist of 45 MEPs, will, among other things, try to determine if the commission failed to do its job.

Under EU rules, the commission is to make sure that polluting emissions from cars are accurately measured. The Volkswagen scandal highlighted that laboratory tests did not reflect the actual emissions cars produce on the road, but the gap between lab results and actual emissions was no secret.

The committee will "investigate the alleged failure of the Commission to comply with the obligation ... to keep under review the test cycles used to measure emissions and to adapt them if they are no longer adequate or no longer reflect real world emissions so as to adequately reflect the emissions generated by real driving on the road.”

MEPs will also investigate if the commission and national governments did enough to make sure illegal software was not used to rig the tests.

Volkswagen made use of such “defeat devices,” which have been illegal since 2007. MEPs will see if the authorities took “proper and effective action to oversee the enforcement and to enforce the explicit ban.”

They’ll also check if member states have done enough to put “effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties” in place.

Another question is how much the commission and governments knew about Volkswagen's use of cheat devices.

In a prepared statement, sent to journalists in anticipation of adoption of the inquiry committee, the commission said: “We have taken determined action to introduce the most robust emissions testing procedures in the world.”

The commission also noted it is “more than ready to work with” the inquiry committee.

Green MEP Bas Eickhout from the Netherlands said in a press release evidence showed the commission is “implicated in the scandal.”

Several reports showed that the commission may have known about car companies rigging the tests, but its industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska has maintained that there was “no indication” this was happening.

“The European Commission has serious questions to answer over revelations that it failed to act on evidence it received that car manufacturers were using manipulation to avoid complying with EU car pollution rules,” said Eickhout.

“This inquiry will lift the lid on this scandal and ensure there is full public accountability for what happened,” said Catherine Bearder, a British Liberal-Democrat MEP, in a press release.

Teeth

The investigation is the fourth of its kind in the history of the European Parliament.

Previous committees of Inquiry have looked at VAT fraud (1996-1997), the mad cow disease BSE (1996-1997) and a financial scandal involving the Equitable Life Assurance Society.

A recent probe into tax regimes met with a lack of cooperation by member states. Compared to that “special committee,” the inquiry committee will have more teeth, including access to privileged documents.

Volkswagen

The parliament probe will focus on EU governments and the commission, not on Volkswagen. However, it emerged this week that EU anti-fraud agency Olaf is investigating the German car company.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday that Olaf is look into whether Volkswagen had misused several billion euros in EU money.

Among those funds was a total of €4.5 billion in loans from the European Investment Bank, meant to be spent on research and development.

In another step, the European Parliament's environment committee on Monday rejected a decision by EU national ministers to allow diesel car manufacturers to emit more than EU limits.

The decision needs to also be rejected by the full plenary of the EP in January, if it is to be overturned.

According to a senior EU source, ministers fear that, with a rejection, they will “lose of a lot of time” in the process of setting up better emissions tests.

She noted that the rejection was “also a powerplay” by the MEPs, who were not involved in the decision-making process beyond the ability to vote Yes or No on the final act.

At the same time, the contact said the Volkswagen scandal showed “the weakness of some of our legislation,” and “how the lobbying is going [on].”

The parliament committee will have a mandate of one year, and is to present an interim report within six months.

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