Dieselgate: More EU countries join call for stricter emission tests

vw_logo_black.jpg [Thomas Hawk/Flickr]

Several EU member states including major automaker France will urge Europe’s pollution regulator to thoroughly assess the consequences of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, according to a document seen by AFP Monday (19 October).

“The environmental dimension needs to be clearly assessed and highlighted,” said the letter, which was addressed to the EU’s 28 environment ministers ahead of talks on October 26 in Luxembourg.

“The case could have a direct bearing on the total emissions of a country, and might have an impact on efforts by all member states to fulfill their (emission) obligations … and meet air quality standards in the EU,” the letter said.

The letter, dated Monday, was written by Austria and Denmark and officially backed by France, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Luxembourg. It did not involve Germany, the home of auto giant Volkswagen that is under fire for massive cheating on emission tests.

>>Read: Dieselgate post-mortem continues

The actual target of the letter is the European Commission, the EU’s regulatory arm that sets emission rules across the 28-country bloc, but without any power of oversight, which remains with national authorities.

The Commission must “give a concise overview of the actions and measures being taken to clarify the magnitude of the manipulation of diesel cars,” the letter said.

The six countries also urged the swift introduction of real-driving tests that are widely known to stamp out the sophisticated cheating carried out by Volkswagen in laboratory tests.

At issue is the date when the real driving tests should be enforced and what delay should be allowed before emissions limits are policed fully.

The introduction of these tests “needs to be taken forward more quickly,” the letter said.

Officially, the real-life tests will begin in January, but only for reference.

The executive’s proposal, which remains unofficial, allows car companies until 2019 to fully implement the new standard, a delay seen as unjustified by activists.

>>Read: Dieselgate exposes member state opposition to emissions curbs

In its own letter to ministers, Belgium said full implementation should take place no later than 2017.

But the pressure on European governments to not overly upset the auto industry is huge, especially as the economic fallout of the VW scandal remains unknown.

According to industry data, the auto sector is responsible for about 12 million jobs across the EU, where economic growth remains sluggish and joblessness is still a concern.

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.

A number of inquiries have already been opened in France and elsewhere. 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.

Separately, the European Union has introduced new tests that will become mandatory for all new vehicles as of September 2017. According to the European Commission’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 is set at 80 mg/km.

But countries with an important automotive sector are opposed to the new rules. This group includes Germany, Spain, Italy and the Eastern countries, except Poland. To placate critics, the Commission now plans to grant a 60% margin over the 80 mg/km limit 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.

  • 16 October: Member states are expected to submit their positions on the new rules.
  • 26 October: Environment Council
  • 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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