Despite fierce resistance from Germany, EU countries agreed a negotiating mandate on Wednesday (6 December) that would allow a Brussels-based authority to oversee the work of national car-approval authorities, according to a source close to the talks.
Estonia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of 28 national governments, will enter the last round of negotiations with the European Parliament on Thursday with a mandate authorising it to accept such oversight.
But the mandate ranges from a light to heavy oversight. The final deal will depend on the negotiating strength of the European Parliament, which wants robust oversight to prevent another situation where national authorities miss, perhaps wilfully, cheating by their national carmakers.
In response to the Dieselgate revelations in 2015, when it was discovered that German automaker Volkswagen and others used ‘defeat devices’ to make their cars look less polluting than they are, the European Commission proposed that it should have the power to oversee the authorities and fine manufacturers directly if they commit fraud.
The Parliament supports the proposal, but member states have resisted giving the Commission the power to oversee their national bodies.
After three rounds of negotiations, member states are ready to move toward the Parliament’s position. According to a document seen by Euractiv, Germany urged the Council to hold firm against any ability for the Commission to inspect national authorities, saying “any kind of audit means extra bureaucracy without being beneficial”.
Instead, Germany suggested extra checks on cars by a second lab but was eventually outvoted.
Estonia is authorised to agree to audits on Thursday. But they have a minimum position, supported by Italy and several Eastern member states, that would only allow the Commission to audit if a problem has been detected – and only if the national authority gives permission.
Campaign group Transport & Environment is urging the Parliament not to accept such a system. “It’s very weak,” said Julia Poliscanova, a campaigner with the group. “You can only check once a crime has been committed, and only after the criminals have consented to be checked.”
Other car making countries such as France support two days of audits by the Commission every five years – whether or not a problem has been detected or the country has given approval.
Some kind of deal is expected at tomorrow’s negotiating session because it will be the last opportunity to agree a deal before the end of the Estonian presidency.