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24th Oct 2020

MEPs' anger at inadequate response to Dieselgate work

  • Cars passing in front of the European Commission building in Brussels. According to MEPs, the commission still owes the EU parliament a comprehensive response to its Dieselgate findings (Photo: European Commission)

A full two years after the European Parliament concluded its inquiry into the diesel emissions scandal known as Dieselgate, the European Commission has still not comprehensively responded to the investigation's conclusions, MEPs said on Thursday (28 March).

MEPs adopted a non-binding text which expressed the parliament's regret "that the commission, as a body, has not submitted a comprehensive report to parliament addressing both the conclusions and the recommendations of the EMIS committee" - referring to the abbreviated name for the parliament's inquiry committee.

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  • From 2016 to 2017, MEPs held their first 'inquiry committee' in a decade - investigating how the car emissions scandal could have happened (Photo: European Parliament)

It was passed with 301 votes in favour, 181 against, and 42 abstentions,

The scandal erupted in the US in September 2015, when German carmaker Volkswagen Group admitted that it had cheated with emissions tests.

It subsequently became clear that millions of diesel cars on European roads were 'clean' only in the laboratory during the official test, but polluting much more than the EU standards during normal on-road use of the car.

MEPs carried out a year-long parliamentary inquiry during 2016 and 2017 - their first in over a decade - and concluded that there had been several cases of maladministration by commission and national governments.

If commission and member states had done what they had promised, the scandal might have been prevented or at least discovered earlier.

Dutch liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, who co-wrote the report, said on Monday that MEPs "never really received a proper response from the commission to the committee of inquiry".

There was a letter from EU industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska, which mainly stressed the good work done by the commission so far - but which avoided several of the issues raised by MEPs.

"And on some elements she wrote that it was the prerogative of the president of the commission, so she couldn't answer. That's a bit weird if we consider the commission a college," said Gerbrandy.

"So this goes beyond air quality. This is also a matter of democratic accountability, and I certainly demand from the commission before the end of this mandate a full and proper response to our inquiry conclusions and recommendations," he said.

That demand was backed by a majority of his colleagues, who also said that commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk should show up at the first plenary session of next month "to answer any remaining questions" on Dieselgate.

In Thursday's resolution, MEPs said "that the commission should draw clear political conclusions on the basis of the conclusions" of the inquiry committee.

MEPs also pointed out that it was already two years since the commission started infringement procedures against Germany, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and Italy, for failing to punish carmakers for their wrongdoing.

They said that it was now time the commission took the next step on the escalation ladder by sending so-called 'reasoned opinions'.

That procedural step is necessary before the cases can be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU.

Court battle

The parliament text also mentioned a separate case at the Luxembourg-based court, which the commission has appealed.

In December, the EU court said that a 2016 decision to give carmakers considerable leeway on EU emission targets when their cars are taking a new on-road test, was in fact illegal.

The commission appealed, because it argued that the illegality rested on the chosen form of lawmaking: the so-called comitology method, which has less involvement from the EU parliament than the ordinary decision-making procedure.

Last month, Bienkowska announced to MEPs that she would come with a new bill under the ordinary procedure - but that the effect would be the same, with carmakers being allowed to emit up until 2.1 times the emissions limit until 2020.

The bill would require consent from a majority of MEPs.

"If the commission makes such a proposal, we can only reject it," centre-left French MEP Christine Revault d'Allonnes Bonnefoy said Monday.

Her Belgian colleague from the same group, the Socialists & Democrats, Kathleen van Brempt told EUobserver on Thursday about a meeting she had with Bienkowska.

Van Brempt had been the chairwoman of the inquiry committee.

She said that Bienkowska had told her the commission would send the bill to parliament in "early April".

However, Van Brempt also stressed that it was highly unlikely that it could be approved before the EU parliament elections, taking place at the end of May.

MEPs on Thursday asked the commission to reconsider its appeal.

Meanwhile, there are still dozens of millions of diesel cars on the road which are emitting more than the EU nitrogen dioxide limit, negatively effecting the health of thousands of European citizens.

Investigation

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The European Parliament said on Tuesday that there should be more EU oversight on how cars are approved, but stopped short of calling for an independent EU agency.

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