National ministers moved today (29 May) to crack down on emissions cheating after the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” scandal by giving the European Commission more powers to monitor testing and fine automakers.
The Council of Ministers from the 28 member states overcame the initial objections of Germany and agreed the broad lines to reform the system for approving vehicles in Europe.
The draft now goes for negotiations with the Commission and the European Parliament.
“Above all, the objective is building trust and credibility again in the European type-approval system,” according to Chris Cardona, Malta’s economy minister. His country holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.
The Dieselgate scandal blew open when Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 that it installed software devices in 11 million diesel-engine cars worldwide that reduced emissions of harmful nitrogen oxides when it detected the vehicle was undergoing tests.
The draft rules call for reducing the power of national authorities and empowering the Commission to test and inspect vehicles to ensure compliance with emissions standards and respond to any irregularities.
“This will increase the independence and quality of the EU type-approval system,” the Council said in a statement.
“The Commission could also impose fines for infringements on manufacturers and importers of up to €30,000 per non-compliant vehicle,” it added.
However, the ministers watered down parts of the original proposal that gave the Commission the authority to fine any carmaker. Under the draft they approved today, the Commission can only raise a fine if national authorities have not already done so.
They also removed parts of the Commission’s proposal that suggested national regulators could not receive payments from car manufacturers, a part of the current legal framework that has drawn heated criticism from campaigners, who argue it national authorities are less likely to scrutinise and punish the companies they receive funds from.
Julia Poliscanova, clean vehicles and air quality manager at NGO Transport & Environment, said, “The governments’ reforms fall short on ambition by exempting national car regulators from proper checks and allowing the current conflicts of interest to continue.”
Under the draft rules, every country will be required to check emissions in one out of every 50,000 new vehicles based on real driving conditions.
The Commission and member states have come under fire for allowing automakers to justify a long list of exceptions and loopholes when being checked for pollutants.
But as far back as 2013, the Commission’s research unit noted discrepancies in emission testing results depending on whether they were done on laboratory simulators or on the road.
While the EU acknowledged that this indicated the possible use of illegal defeat devices, Brussels did nothing, arguing that enforcement was the responsibility of national regulators.