One of the researchers that put Volkswagen’s emissions cheating on the map said the European Commission’s proposal to more strictly police the car industry won’t deliver ‘fundamental change’.
“What is being proposed in Europe is not a fundamental change. There will not be a central authority,” said Vicente Franco of the month-old type approval proposal to rein in national authorities around Europe and give the Commission new oversight powers.
Franco’s research with the International Council on Clean Transportation led US watchdogs to investigate Volkswagen. That spiralled into the scandal that forced the company to recall millions of vehicles that were outfitted with emissions doctoring devices.
Critics have slammed EU car emissions regulations for being much less strict than laws in the US. Diesel cars—like the Volkswagen models that were caught with cheating devices—make up a significantly larger part of the European market.
In Europe, Franco said, “on-road NOx emissions of modern diesel cars are on average higher than for heavy duty trucks”.
After the Volkswagen scandal broke, the Commission fast-tracked its proposal to introduce tests that measure cars’ real driving emissions and introduced another bill to give the executive new oversight powers over national type approval authorities.
A special inquiry committee in the European Parliament is holding its first meeting today (2 March) and will investigate how the executive has handled the emissions cheating scandal.
Franco met yesterday with MEPs from different political groups, including some who are in the inquiry committee.
“The risk is that if the enforcement practices are not harmonised, then the manufacturers will still be able to cherry pick the national type approval that is more sympathetic and more lenient,” he said of the type approval proposal.
Franco and other researchers revealed that Luxembourg’s car type approval authorities green-light one fifth of all cars in Europe, although no cars are manufactured in the country.
The European Commission’s proposal to reform the type approval system would give the executive new powers to sanction national authorities caught turning a blind eye to car manufacturers’ cheating.
The bill will also keep manufacturers from directly paying the type approval authorities of their choice to carry out tests.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska has said there is no need to set up a new EU agency to oversee Europe’s car industry.
But critics argue the Commission won’t have the resources or authority to rein in national regulators around the EU and prevent another emissions cheating scandal.
“The Volkswagen scandal is truly a game changer. I don’t think it will put us at the same level that they are at in the US because they have a centralised authority such as the EPA, which has tremendous powers and resources to do its job,” Franco said.
EURACTIV previously reported that a delegation from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) met with Commission officials and MEPs last month ahead of the Parliament’s vote on regulations for real driving emissions testing.
Under the type approval bill, the executive’s scientific research unit, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) will be tasked with testing cars that are available on the market in Europe. The draft regulation, which still needs to go through negotiations with the Council and Parliament, does not include a budget increase for the JRC when it takes on its new testing role.
A Commission spokesperson declined to specify how many JRC employees will be running emissions tests.
Franco, who previously worked at the JRC as an engineer, said the research centre would “probably need more investment” to test a significant number of cars.
“They’re doing good work, that is for sure. But it depends on the workload. If they were to screen 10% of the European fleet that might be a stretch,” Franco added.