Dieselgate exposes member state opposition to emissions curbs

El?bieta Bie?kowska [European Parliament]

Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy and most Eastern member states are reluctant to adopt stricter rules to limit emissions from diesel vehicles, despite watered down proposals from the European Commission.

Brussels has asked capitals to send a written position by the end of next week.

The Volkswagen emmissions scandal, unveiled by US authorities, has provoked a wave of indignation, raising serious concerns about the control mechanisms in the industry.

But a majority of EU countries are against speeding up the adoption of the new limits for diesel exhaust.

The European Commission considers its proposal “bold and realistic”, saying it takes into account the impact of the new thresholds on the industry, and the owners of old vehicles. Still, some national governments will find it “hard” to accept the proposal, officials admit.

>>Read: European Parliament calls for inquiry into Volkswagen scandal

Countries with an important automotive sector are opposed to the new rules. This group includes Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy and the Eastern countries, except Poland.

France has not joined the critics, while the Nordic states and the Netherlands also support the Commission.

>>Read: German MEPs oppose stricter car emissions tests

According to the EU executive’s proposal, car makers will have to start measuring Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) levels on the road in parallel with laboratory tests, which were cheated by Volkswagen engineers. As with laboratory tests, the limit will be 80 mg/km.

However, scientists estimate that emission levels can increase by 400% when a vehicle is tested on the road.

These tests will become mandatory for all new vehicles as of September 2017. But contrary to an initial proposal made in 2012, the Commission now plans to grant a 60% margin over the 80 mg/km over a period of two years (until September 2019) to facilitate the implementation of the new rules. This is because the EU executive believes that one in ten vehicles will fail the test, and therefore won’t be able to circulate under the new regulation.

The Commission insists that its new proposal has “no relation” with Dieselgate, as the new set of limits were drafted before the scandal broke. However, EU officials admit that the new limits were proposed after the fraud was unveiled.

But member states don’t want the executive to stop there. The group of critics wants to extend the phase-in period and obtain an additional margin of up to 330%.

As some national governments have not spoken out, the Commission has requested a written position from the capitals by the end of next week (16 October). The EU executive is fighting to gain support among the skeptics to reach a qualified majority in the Technical Committee for Motor Vehicles, made up of national experts. However, the executive does not want to continue the discussions in the next meeting, expected to take place by the end of October, and appears ready to force a vote.

If there is not enough support, the dossier will leave the obscure comittee process to be discussed by national ministers in the Council. According to EU officials, this will help to expose member states’ positions, and make the debate more transparent.

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 EU executive seems reluctant to open any kind of inquiry. El?bieta Bie?kowska, 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.

  • 16 October: Member states are expected to submit their positions on the new rules.
  • End October: Next meeting of the Technical Committee for Motor Vehicles, the comitology body involving EU officials and national experts in charge of setting the new rules.
  • January 2016: Car makers must start measuring NOx levels on the road.
  • 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.

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