Forty-five MEPs join inquiry committee to probe dieselgate emissions scandal

Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE) during a plenary debate on emissions this week

Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE) during a plenary debate on emissions this week. [European Parliament]

Forty-five MEPs were voted into the European Parliament’s new inquiry committee tasked with uncovering potential failures of EU institutions to disclose information related to the dieselgate emissions scandal.

The temporary committee will meet for one year to investigate the European Commission and EU member states’ involvement in doctored vehicle emissions reporting following Volkswagen’s cheating scandal that erupted last year.

MEPs today (21 January) approved members of the inquiry committee in a plenary session. The committee includes 14 full members from the EPP group, 12 S&D MEPs, five ECR, four ALDE, 3 Green, 3 GUE/NGL, 2 EFDD and 2 from Marine Le Pen’s group ENF.

The MEPs elected to the inquiry committee were plucked from the Parliament’s Environment (ENVI), Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and Transport (TRAN) Committees.

Substitute members were also elected to the committee, although they will not have voting rights.

MEPs voted in December to set up the special inquiry committee to investigate failure to oversee emissions tests and introduce new testing procedures.

The committee will also look into whether the Commission and national governments knew about Volkswagen’s use of so-called ‘defeating devices’ to cheat on emissions tests before the US Environmental Protection Agency uncovered the scandal.

Commission spokesperson Lucia Caudet said in a statement, “The Commission is more than ready to work with the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry. Defeat devices are banned in EU law. Member States have a standing obligation to enforce this ban. The policing in the area is the responsibility of the appropriate national enforcement authorities.”

>>Read: Parliament establishes committee of inquiry into Dieselgate scandal

Inquiry committees in the European Parliament are rare. In 2014, a similar group was called to look into the Luxleaks scandal that unveiled evidence of tax evasion in Luxembourg.

Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE), who was elected to the new committee, said “No stone should be left unturned to discover the truth about this environmental and public health scandal.”

Parliament sources mentioned Gerbrandy, French MEP Francoise Grossetete (EPP) and Belgian MEP Kathleen van Brempt (S&D) as possible contenders to become president of the committee.

MEPs in the committee will also elect four vice-chairs.

A parliament spokesperson said the inquiry committee hasn’t scheduled its first meeting yet, although it is slated to take place in the first week of February.

Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout (Greens) said he thought most groups involved in the inquiry were committed to investigating the dieselgate scandal. But some members of the EPP had originally rebuffed the call to open an inquiry committee.

“The EPP has been objecting to this inquiry committee from the start. But I really hope now that it’s there, they’re joining the group to get work done,” Eickhout said.

Eickhout said he’d like the committee to invite EU Internal Market Commissioner El?bieta Bie?kowska (EPP) to address the group, as well as former Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani (EPP), now a vice president of the European Parliament.

Commission officials from DG GROW and DG ENVI, as well as national type approval authorities, and research organisations in charge of emissions testing should also be invited to speak before the committee, Eickhout said.

>>Read: Environment MEPs rebuff member states on diesel emissions

“The EPP Group will be vigilant to ensure that the mandate is respected and that the committee does not become a diesel fuel trial,” French MEP Francoise Grossetete (EPP) said in a statement.

“This inquiry should not turn into an inquisition court, but instead come up with ideas for solutions,” she said.

Commissioner Bie?kowska has said the Commission will not open an investigation into emissions cheating until EU member states have completed their own inquiries.

The Commission and EU member states struck a deal last year that will still allow diesel cars to emit double the legal limit of pollutants starting in 2017. The limit will sink to a lower level in 2019.

MEPs balked at that agreement.

In December, MEPs in the Environment Committee (ENVI) rejected the Commission and member states’ proposal. A plenary vote on the agreement was set to take place this week, but was postponed until February.

Greg Archer, clean vehicles director of NGO Transport & Environment said the Parliament inquiry committee should investigate “whether the testing services and national type approval authorities responsible for testing and authorising vehicles have always operated fairly and transparently.”

A spokesperson for the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said, “The automobile industry recognises the importance of clarifying the issues and is ready to work with the committee should this be required.”

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

French MEP Karima Delli (Green), member of the inquiry committee: "The Commission has serious questions to answer over revelations it failed to act on indications that car manufacturers were using manipulation to avoid complying with EU car pollution rules. It must also explain why it sat on its hands in the face of evidence that many vehicles on the market exceeded EU pollution norms. We will also have the task of working with national inquiries, which are revealing the shenanigans of several auto makers to bypass european laws. Where states are eager to spare their domestic industries, our inquiry, European and independent will be uncompromising towards those who play with the health of European citizens."

British MEP Ian Duncan (ECR), member of the inquiry committee: "The Committee has an important job to do if the public are to have any confidence that manufacturers such as Volkswagen will not be able to cheat emissions tests again. Whether negligent or complicit, both the European Commission and National Governments must explain what went wrong. Only then can we put the measures in place to make sure this can never happens again."

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 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.

  • January 2016: Car makers must start measuring NOx levels on the road.
  • February 2016: European Parliament inquiry committee Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector to meet for the first time.
  • 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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