A once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix Dieselgate

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Problems remain. Germany's lack of sanctions against Volkswagen for its part in Dieselgate being chief among them. [SenseiAlan/ Flickr]

To restore consumer trust, the European Parliament must agree an overhaul of EU rules for approving and checking a vehicle’s performance. It is now or never, writes Monique Goyens.

Monique Goyens is director general of BEUC, the EU consumer organisation.

On Thursday this week (9 February), politicians in the European Parliament will decide on what measures they think are necessary to avoid another Dieselgate scandal from erupting in Europe.

In what is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get things right, MEPs must agree on a fundamental reform to the system of approving and checking a vehicle’s performance. This in turn will help rebuild consumer trust in the automotive sector.

At BEUC, and with our member organisations across Europe, we have long been calling for changes to EU regulations in the area of car testing. We feel this is important because when it concerns the information about the emissions and fuel consumption performance of cars, we know consumers are being deceived on a grand scale.

And since the Dieselgate scandal came to the fore back in September 2015, the problems associated with the EU car testing maze have been made crystal clear.

Conflicts of interest

One of the biggest issues has been the cosy relationships that car makers, national authorities and private labs have developed over the past ten years. This has called into question the very independence of the current supervisory system in Europe.

The conflicts of interest that have developed have been highlighted nowhere better than in the European Parliament’s investigative Committee into Dieselgate. It was perhaps made most clear in the remarks of the Luxembourg authority in one of the Committee’s hearings.

On explaining why so many type approvals are made in the Grand Duchy, the representative matter-of-factly stated: “Why Luxembourg? Well Luxembourg… is neutral. If a German company comes to apply for type approval in Luxembourg, it is more natural than going to France, where maybe they feel the competitor is too close, and vice versa.”

And herein lies the problem. Having a system that is ‘neutral’ across Europe is essential for the very functioning of the single market.

Without it the system will ultimately fail because each member state will protect its own interests and breed distrust in the system. Dieselgate is of course symptomatic of this real world failure.

Member states not playing ball

The actions (or rather lack there in) of Member states to enforce the rules have been pathetic; here best illustrated by Germany’s handling of VW (still no sanctions have been applied by German authorities!) and most recently in Italy’s fumbled response to an alleged defeat device used by Fiat.

Ultimately, the current system is not working in the consumer interest. Wholesale change is necessary and this is why the EU Commission must be in the driver’s seat to oversee vehicle testing independently.

Quantifiable targets are essential to ensure that member states and the Commission carry out minimum number of market checks every year. Greater transparency would mean that all stakeholders are held accountable. And ultimately, the legislation must ensure the possibility for the end consumer to attain redress where wrongdoing has been discovered.

The Parliament has a golden opportunity to build on the proposal of the Commission to overhaul the existing rules, and work to get member states on side and change the system for the better.

And let us recognise, this is of course not just about consumers getting better information but also about protecting our health, the environment and improving road safety. For this generation and the next, let’s take this opportunity to restore consumer trust in passenger cars… with both hands firmly on the wheel!

[1] It is expected that the IMCO Committee will vote on its draft report on type approval and market surveillance on 9 February 2017.

To see the full and detailed BEUC position on type approval and market surveillance click here.

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