MEPs in the Internal Market Committee voted to give the European Commission more powers to police car manufacturers, but left-wing groups lost their bid to set up a new EU agency tasked with preventing another Dieselgate scandal.
British Tory MEP Daniel Dalton, who is responsible for the Parliament negotiations on the bill overhauling how cars are approved across the EU, said an agency isn’t necessary because the new rules will give the Commission enough muscle to rein in national governments and car companies on its own.
“It would cost a huge amount of money to staff it and buy buildings. Shouldn’t that money be better spent on testing more cars?” Dalton told euractiv.com after today’s committee vote.
Dalton said he isn’t aware of any estimates calculating how much an agency might cost.
“The proposal was to have an agency, not how much it would cost or how it would run. In my opinion it was the call for an agency for the sake of an agency and that was wrong,” he added.
Supporters of an EU road agency argue the Volkswagen scandal created the need for an institution that is independent of the Commission and member states’ influence — and agencies already exist to police other transport sectors. The EU agency overseeing maritime activity has a budget of €54 million, while the EU agency for railways has a €30 million budget.
Ivan Štefanec, a Slovak MEP from the centre-right EPP group, said in a statement that an EU agency overseeing cars would “only add more bureaucracy” and hold up legal change for years.
Dalton’s report was approved with 33 votes in favour and four against. It includes measures giving the Commission authority to audit offices in EU countries that approve cars before they can go on the road. Under the new rules, the Commission can test cars itself – a power it does not have now, force national authorities to change their own testing measures and sanction manufacturers.
Some national authorities have come under fire for approving cars that used illegal software to mask how much of the harmful NOx air pollutant they emitted. The Commission proposed the legal change in January 2016, four months after revelations of Volkswagen’s use of cheating software caused uproar across Europe and in the US, where the scandal was first uncovered by the American Environmental Protection Agency.
Green and Socialist MEPs called for an agency with its own budget to oversee and sanction misbehaving car companies and national authorities, but their amendments were rejected.
Karima Delli, a French Green and the newly elected chair of the Parliament’s Transport Committee, said she is holding out hope that amendments asking for an agency could still pass in a plenary vote of the full 751-member house expected this spring. The legislation must be approved by the Parliament and EU member states before it can go into effect.
“We’re asking for a European agency with market surveillance power as it exists in the US,” Delli said.
MEPs from the Transport and Environment Committees have already backed the proposal for an agency.
Elzbieta Bienkowska, the Commission’s internal market chief who has taken charge of the EU response to the emissions scandal, has opposed setting up an agency.
“I still think we do not need a separate European agency like the EPA in the US. What we need is an oversight of the market made independent of the member states’ authorities,” Bienkowska said today in the Parliament’s special inquiry committee, which was set up in January 2016 to investigate the Dieselgate scandal.
A non-binding report detailing the inquiry committee’s findings – which also recommends an independent agency to oversee national authorities – will also be voted on in a Parliament plenary session.
The Commission took legal action against seven EU countries in December for breaking the law and refusing to sanction car companies that sold vehicles using cheat devices.
Bienkowska told MEPs today that she will open cases against even more EU countries in the next few months because they have refused to inform the Commission about their actions to fight cheating on emissions tests.
“We are still struggling to get all the facts,” she said.
“I generally see no shift of attitude in the industry, but also unfortunately in the member states’ authorities.”
EU countries are divided over the idea of a new agency, with France leading efforts in favour of an institution in charge of roads.
Chris Carroll from the European Consumer Organisation said that even though the bill gives the Commission new authority to test cars, a central EU agency with its own budget would be a more powerful body to oversee emissions tests.
“An agency provides a separate entity that has less links to member states and the Commission,” he said.
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 cheat.