The European Parliament approved tougher rules for the approval of new cars aimed at avoiding a repeat of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal but rejected amendments calling for a new, centralised EU road agency to oversee emissions testing.
MEPs approved the draft bill today (4 April) with 585 votes in favour and 77 against. The bill will give the European Commission new powers to police manufacturers and allow it to fine companies up to €30,000 per vehicle if they are caught breaking the law.
The Commission proposed the overhaul of rules on how vehicles are licensed and tested across the bloc last year, in response to the scandal that erupted in 2015 around Volkswagen’s use of illegal software to manipulate how its vehicles performed on emissions tests.
Debate over the EU response to the scandal has focused on measures to create new oversight bodies tasked with testing vehicles. Political groups in the Parliament have disagreed sharply over whether a new EU road agency would make car tests work better because they could be done independently of lawmakers. The Commission’s original proposal gives the executive new testing and enforcement powers, but does not pave the way for an EU agency. Emissions tests are currently done by national regulators.
There already are EU agencies overseeing railways, aviation and maritime travel.
Around the same time as the Commission proposed the draft car type approval legislation in January 2016, the Parliament set up a special inquiry committee to investigate the involvement of EU authorities, national regulators and manufacturers in illegal emissions cheating.
In addition to approving the type approval rules, MEPs also backed the inquiry committee’s final report today, which called for an EU road agency. But unlike the type approval legislation, the report is not binding.
Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the EU internal market Commissioner who has managed the Commission’s response to the Volkswagen scandal, has opposed calls to set up an agency, citing the costs and added bureaucracy that would come with the body.
Daniel Dalton, the British Conservative MEP who guided the type approval bill through the Parliament, said he was not convinced there is a need for an agency.
Green and Socialist MEPs put forward amendments asking for a road agency but Liberal, Conservative and centre-right groups opposed them, arguing the new legislation will give the Commission enough powers to test vehicles on its own. Some MEPs argued the Parliament will have more power to oversee the Commission’s new role in testing vehicles than it would if an EU agency were put in charge of those tests.
A note from the Green political group circulated ahead of today’s vote proposed creating an agency to carry out tests of vehicles to make sure they are in line with EU emissions laws. But the group recommended the Commission maintain control of sanctioning manufacturers that are caught breaking the rules.
In a debate this morning, MEPs clashed over the agency idea.
“Wouldn’t it be better to keep as a political chamber here a control on the Commission to make sure that what happened in the past will not happen again?,” asked German MEP Andreas Schwab from the centre-right EPP group.
German Socialist MEP Evelyn Gebhardt insisted the agency proposal “is not more bureaucracy”.
“It is greater certainty for our citizens and our consumers,” Gebhardt said.
Karmenu Vella, the EU Commissioner in charge of environmental policy, scolded national governments that have not sanctioned Volkswagen or sent the Commission information about their actions against manufacturers that broke EU laws.
“Effectively the remaining member states are making the case for an agency by not acting,” Vella said today. But he repeated Bieńkowska’s argument that an EU road agency would be too expensive and bureaucratic.
In December, the Commission opened lawsuits against Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Luxembourg, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Greece for allegedly breaking EU law and failing to sanction car manufacturers that were caught using illegal devices to manipulate how their vehicles perform in emissions tests.