Social Democrats have won out over the EPP’s bid to claim leadership in the European Parliament’s new inquiry committee into the ‘dieselgate’ scandal.
In the committee’s first meeting this morning (2 March) Belgian S&D MEP Kathleen van Brempt (Socialistische Partij.Anders) was named chair in an unopposed race.
EPP members of the committee had pushed Latvian MEP Krišjānis Kariņš (Partija “VIENOTĪBA”) as their candidate, but ultimately gave in when they realised they didn’t have enough support, Parliament sources told EurActiv.com.
Inquiry committees can be set up in the European Parliament for one year to probe alleged mismanagement. A committee on the Luxleaks tax scandal was established in 2014.
The emissions inquiry committee has been fraught with tension between the political groups: in December the EPP voted against setting up the special probe.
When van Brempt was named to head the inquiry this morning, Kariņš warned that the committee should not be used to attack the car industry.
“I want to make it very clear that the EPP will do its utmost to prevent this committee from becoming what could be termed as a witch hunt, either against industry or against the diesel technologies, where Europe has a competitive advantage in the world,” Kariņš cautioned.
“It is false to pit industry against the environment. Europe needs jobs, Europe needs industry, our task is to square that with, of course, the needs of the environment,” he said.
The vice-chairs named to the committee are Belgian EPP MEP Ivo Belet (Christen-Democratisch & Vlaams), Belgian ECR MEP Mark Demesmaeker (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie), Czech GUE/NGL MEP Kateřina Konečná (Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy) and French Green MEP Karima Delli (Europe Écologie).
Van Brempt told EurActiv the inquiry will not ‘scapegoat’ the car industry.
“We’re not going to investigate the industry and what went wrong,” van Brempt said.
“Its more about how the Commission, but also the national authorities, in this respect were managed,” she added.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uncovered Volkswagen’s widespread use of so-called defeat devices to cheat on emissions reporting last September.
“How is it possible that the fraud was discovered in the States and not in Europe?” van Brempt asked.
Van Brempt declined to name who she plans to invite as speakers to the committee’s hearings.
Kariņš insisted that although the EPP initially voted against setting up the committee, he does want to investigate emissions regulations.
“To decouple the auto industry’s involvement from in any way financing the outfits that do the tests. How we can get a test that can be truly European and not a member state system – I think this is something we’re certainly very interested in,” he said.
But he cautioned that some MEPs in the committee “wish to use this as a platform to attack the industry and technologies that actually in effect we have demanded of the industry in our environmental standards”.
Asked about his race against van Brempt to become committee chair, Kariņš said, “Politics is politics and it seems to be the same the world over”.
“The EMIS inquiry should bring full transparency to the roots of the scandal, avoid political infighting and deter any repetition of this kind of cheating,” said Jacob Bangsgaard, director general of European operations for the consumer organisation Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.
The inquiry committee will meet again on 22 March.
US regulators found that Volkswagen designed software for close to half a million diesel cars that gave false emissions data during the laboratory tests. Experts consider that tests on the road are more difficult to be cheated.
In Europe, while the European Commission and the national authorities are preparing more strict emissions limits, a number of inquiries have already been opened in France.
But the executive seems reluctant to open any kind of inquiry. Elzbieta Bienkowska, the Internal Market Commissioner, has upset MEPs by saying that the executive intends not to act until the member states have conducted their own national investigations.
The presidents of the European Parliament´s Environment, Transport, Internal Market and Industry committees have decided to investigate how Volkswagen cars could have cheated the testing system without the fraud being picked up at any stage by the European Commission.
- January 2016: Car makers must start measuring NOx levels on the road.
- February 2016: European Parliament inquiry committee Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector to meet for the first time.
- September 2017: The new tests are taken into account to authorize the vehicles, although there will be a phase-in period with some leeway for the sector.
- December 2019: Full implementation of the new rules.