Greater EU powers to catch and fine emissions cheats kick in

The European Commission will now have greater oversight on how car emissions are tested and offenders punished. [Photo: Shutterstock]

New EU rules on monitoring the vehicles on Europe’s roads come into force on Tuesday (1 September), granting the European Commission added powers to police car emissions and take to task any manufacturers that breach the law.

Following the emissions-testing Dieselgate scandal – in which so-called ‘defeat devices’ were fitted to millions of Volkswagens – the Commission launched a review of how road vehicles should be regulated.

Along with finalising a new testing procedure that better takes into account emissions produced in real-world driving scenarios, EU decision-makers also agreed in 2018 to update the legislation that underpins monitoring efforts.

Today those new rules kick in and they include stricter checks on national authorities to ensure that they are implementing standards properly and an obligation on member states to test a certain number of cars that are already on the market.

At least one in every 40,000 newly-registered cars will have to be checked. According to 2019 sales figures, that would mean 447 inspections spread out across the EU. Member states are expected to foot the bill for those tests.

But the updated law also grants the Commission the right to conduct its own inspections, order vehicle recalls and issue fines, powers that were previously only enjoyed by national regulators.

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Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said that “Europeans rightly expect to drive the cleanest and safest cars. That presupposes the strictest controls of cars placed on the market and circulating on our roads.”

The head of single market policies added that “it also requires real enforcement and oversight at the European level.”

The Commission has earmarked extra funding worth €7 million for its Joint Research Centre (JRC) to take on the new role and if tests find that vehicles are in breach of type-approval standards or are fitted with defeat devices, fines of up to €30,000 can be imposed on manufacturers.

That sum would be in addition to any penalties levied by national authorities, which will still retain the right to issue fines at their discretion.

Up until now, Brussels has only been able to get involved indirectly, such as when it referred Germany to the European Court of Justice in 2015, over non-compliance with rules on car air conditioning units.

Tests will focus on “compliance and conformity checks on vehicles in laboratories or on the road” but clean vehicles expert Julia Poliscanova, with mobility group Transport & Environment, said that the Commission should make the most of its new powers.

“The question is now whether they have the political will to make the full use of the powers, and whether they will allocate enough resources to do the job well,” she told EURACTIV, explaining that the tests should focus on a number of crucial areas.

That would include checking if new cars meet the stricter Euro 6d limits in real-life conditions, whether manufacturers report fair values on the new CO2 tests (WLTP) and whether “newly hyped innovations such as coasting bring the emission cuts promised”, she added.

Eyes now turn to the EU’s existing rules on car CO2 emissions cuts that expire at the end of the year and whether the bloc’s top manufacturers will meet the benchmarks. A mooted early review of the next set of targets for 2030 is also still possible.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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