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2nd Dec 2023

Dieselgate MEPs grow impatient with commission inaction

  • EU commissioner for industry Elzbieta Bienkowska (r) said she was looking to work together with her environment colleague Karmenu Vella on legal action against member states (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission is still analysing the reasons given by member states for not fining Volkswagen Group (VW) for its emissions fraud, industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska told MEPs on Wednesday (14 March), some of whom were growing impatient.

Bienkowska spoke in Strasbourg to former members of the European Parliament's inquiry committee into the car emissions scandal, whose scathing report was adopted one year ago this month.

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The parliament said in its report that maladministration by member states and the EU commission had created a legal environment in which the Dieselgate scandal could take place.

On Wednesday, one of the report's co-authors said not much had changed in the attitude of national authorities – who have so far retained the powers to punish emissions fraud at national level.

"It is appalling to see the lack of action in the member states," said liberal Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy.

"Not one single car manufacturer has been fined so far and no consumer has been compensated," he added.

While VW has settled in the United States for some $25bn (€20.2bn), no fines have been paid in Europe - even though the number of affected diesel cars is 8.5 million, compared to only around 500,000 in the US.

In December 2016, the commission took legal action through the so-called infringement procedure against Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and the UK, because they had failed to punish the subsidiaries of VW that had acquired certificates in their countries by fooling emissions tests.

The infringement procedure could end up with a referral to the Court of Justice.

Greece has also been targeted for not having clear fines on car emissions fraud.

However, the commission has so far only exchanged letters with the member states involved.

Several MEPs said it was unclear why the commission was still studying the information from the member states.

"You have been doing that since June last year. Why is that taking so long?," Gerbrandy asked.

"I understand your point of course," said Bienkowska in response. "We are still studying the answers. This is very technically complex."

Teaming up with Vella

The Polish commissioner added that she was also "trying to work together" with environment commissioner Karmenu Vella, who has begun the infringement procedure against several member states over air pollution.

The next step of a court referral is looming over nine EU member states who have failed to bring air quality up to EU standards.

Germany, Spain, and the UK are facing infringement procedures initiated both by Bienkowska and Vella.

MEPs had asked Bienkowska to commit to a timetable to know when the next steps in the procedure would be taken, but the commissioner referred to a member of her cabinet, Carsten Bermig, who was sitting next to her.

"Carsten said no. I will not be able to give you any timetable for next steps," she said.

"[But] I will try to bring some more clarity what will be our next steps," Bienkowska added.

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