The Brief: Emissions collusion dampened EU spark

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

After the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal broke in late 2015, it quickly became apparent that the German giant was not the only car company with dirty secrets to hide.

Studies showed that almost all carmakers exceeded legal emissions limits, with VW far from the worst offender.

So somehow it was no big surprise to learn this week that the big names of Germany’s automotive industry had probably been illegally in cahoots since the 1990s.

Some of Europe’s best-known car brands now stand accused of forming secret working groups on everything from costs and supplies to how to deal with tough emissions standards.

According to sources close to the car industry, manufacturers have spent decades pressuring governments to water down regulation and ignore their emissions infringements. Terrified of being seen as anti-business, leaders in export-driven economies like Germany have consistently caved in.

European authorities were even told about VW’s emissions test cheating years ago but chose to do nothing.

But recent signals from some EU countries suggest change is on the horizon. France this month unveiled plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel-powered cars by 2040. The UK followed suit yesterday.

2040 still feels like a long way off, giving carmakers plenty of time to adapt. But some forward-thinking companies have already plotted a much shorter course to an electrified future.

Volvo has said it will produce only electric and hybrid vehicles from 2019 onwards and BMW this week made a cryptic announcement about the electric drive chains in its new Mini.

With air pollution killing 400,000 Europeans and costing the continent more than €1.3trn every year, it is clear that urgent action is needed. And such government pledges are a good start for an industry that needs certainty to plan for the future.

Yet the real wake-up call is coming from the East, and many of Europe’s internal combustion behemoths may still come to regret the years they spent conspiring to bypass pollution regulations rather than developing competitive clean technologies.

A surge in ambition and technological know-how in both India and China, two of the world’s biggest, fastest-growing markets, has caught the European incumbents napping.

India said it would aim to fully electrify its road transport sector by 2030, while China reckons it can boost electric car sales to 20% of its total by 2025.

If either country even comes close to these goals, the gains made by their domestic car producers would allow them not only to penetrate the European market but also to undercut and outperform Europe’s exporters.

Change will come whether European companies are part of it or not: they can either evolve or face extinction. This is at last the kind of language the established European carmakers should be able to understand.

Click here to follow our coverage of e-mobility.

The Roundup

Jean-Claude Juncker promised Slovakian leader Robert Fico to end the “unacceptable” food apartheid between the EU’s eastern and western member states. Multinational companies have come under fire for using cheaper ingredients in the same brands sold in Eastern Europe.

That was during a press conference where the Commission president thought his wife was calling him, only to discover that it was the other very powerful woman in his life…

A new study has revealed the staggering health costs generated by fossil fuels. Ending fossil fuel subsidies could save some EU countries up to 13% of GDP.

Greece is aiming for a record year for tourism this summer, as sun-seekers shun unstable Turkey. A booming agri-tourism industry is helping draw crowds away from the beaches and reinvigorate rural areas.

Athens’ hopes its return to the bond markets this week will see it brought back into the ECB’s bond buying programme.

The EU approved an extension to its naval operation in the Mediterranean and adopted new measures to improve the training of the Libyan coast guard. Operation Sophia has saved upwards of 30,000 lives since 2015 but its methods have been heavily criticised.

Britain is beginning to change its tune on post-Brexit migration after a study showed it would be economically impossible to stop EU migrants coming to work after it leaves the bloc. Demand for business premises in the UK has stopped growing for the first time in five years as uncertainty takes its toll on the economy.

What is Martin Schulz doing on this Russian company’s advert?

Look out for…

Stay tuned for Tweets of the Week!

Views are the author’s.

If you would like to subscribe to The Brief, please click here.