Parliament Legal Committee rattles Commission’s emissions proposal

EU Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska

Elzbieta Bienkowska [European Commission]

MEPs in the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) voted yesterday evening (1 February) to support an opinion that could deal a blow to the European Commission’s proposed real driving emissions (RDE) tests for diesel cars.

In an extraordinary meeting held yesterday evening in Strasbourg, a slim majority of MEPs in the Committee approved an opinion that criticises the Commission’s proposal on RDE tests—just two days before it faces a vote in Parliament’s plenary session.

The opinion was passed with 13 votes in favour and 12 opposed.

In October, the Commission and EU member states agreed on controversial new rules for diesel cars, known as real driving emissions tests because they measure emissions levels while cars are on the road and not in labs.

MEPs have blasted the deal for not enforcing emissions limits sooner. Under the proposal, diesel cars will still be allowed to emit twice the legal limit as of September 2017. That limit will drop in 2019.

The executive negotiated the agreement with member states after news broke last September of Volkswagen’s widespread cheating on emissions tests.

According to the JURI Committee opinion, “the introduction and application of ‘conformity factors’ in the draft Commission regulation […] run counter to the aims and content” of a 2007 regulation already approved by parliament.

Under that regulation, the European Commission cannot “amend the emission limit values”, the opinion states.

>>Read: Member states resist stricter controls on diesel car emissions

The opinion was drafted by German S&D MEP Sylvia Kaufmann (SPD) and circulated during the meeting, which was held behind closed doors.

MEPs signed off on a regulation in 2007 to reduce emissions in light vehicles starting in 2014. The October agreement would alter those conditions.

The Commission had not yet responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

With the Commission’s proposal on RDE testing scheduled to face a plenary vote tomorrow (3 February), the JURI Committee’s strike against the agreement could deal another blow to the embattled draft regulation.

In December, MEPs in the Environment (ENVI) Committee voted against the proposal.

But the JURI Committee’s opinion was approved on a tight margin, highlighting divisions in Parliament over diesel emissions.

German EPP MEP Angelika Niebler (CSU) told EURACTIV, “I have voted against the JURI opinion as I do support the Commission proposal. I believe that it is high time to switch from laboratory tests to RDE tests.”

“If, in the end, we discover that the conformity factors are still too high and do not deliver the effects we were hoping for, we can always correct the decision under a review. For now, I believe it is of utmost importance to deliver results and thus to adopt the Commission proposal,” Niebler added.

But other MEPs have blasted the Commission’s proposal.

Finnish Greens MEP Heidi Hautala (Vihreä liitto) said she was hopeful the JURI opinion might topple tomorrow’s plenary vote.

“The JURI committee opinion may well make the MEPs who sympathise with the car industry understand that the Commission could not care less about the emission limits set by the legislator,” Hautala said.

During a Parliament debate last month, EU Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska urged MEPs to support the new rules.

“I consider this agreement substantial progress because we are halving the NOx emissions of diesel cars currently on the streets and, at the same time, we are forcing the automotive industry to speed up efforts to make cars cleaner and respect our common environmental goals,” she said.

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

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.

  • 3 February: Parliament votes on Commission's proposal on RDE testing

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