EU losing patience with national regulators over emissions probes

February 14, 2017

The top EU official overseeing Dieselgate has urged member states to accelerate alleged wrongdoing by carmakers. 

Industry commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska warned that illegal defeat device emissions software was not just a problem for Volkswagen, and that she is losing patience with national regulators in their unwillingness to pursue probes. 

While not willing to confirm whether other carmakers had broken the law, she made clear that further work was necessary following the findings of various investigations by member states. Since Dieselgate in September 2015, national authorities have scrutinised: FCA (Fiat Crysler Automobiles), PSA (Peugeot Citroën), Renault, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and General Motors’ Opel. 

National investigations have established that several vehicles turn off their emissions control systems under certain circumstances, such as at particular temperatures, and after a period suspiciously slightly longer than official tests. 

Bieńkowska said Brussels would initiate infringement proceedings against member states if carmakers cannot provide a technical justification of such practices. There is an EU legal loophole that allows emissions-boosting software when necessary for safety or engine protection. This is why, despite some finding suspicious activity, none of the probes by member states have found that carmakers used illegal defeat devices. 

Ultimately experts point to the large grey area in EU emissions rules defining illegal defeat devices as being the cause of the problems, with carmakers taking advantage of the deficiencies – in contrast to much more concrete rules in the US. VW has insisted the emissions control software it installed in its European diesel cars did not breach EU law. 

It is this exact problem that FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne pointed to on Thursday last week about emissions regulations in the EU, complaining that the single market was meant to avoid this mess. 

He added: ‘Bad rules are also applied in a different way in every country, creating the worst solution that could be invented.’ 

In December the Commission sued Germany and the UK for refusing to handover ‘technical information’ to Brussels. It also sued UK, Germany, Spain and Luxembourg for failing to impose similar penalties on Volkswagen despite the company’s use of illegal defeat device software.’ 

Meanwhile, Germany is likely leading to a confrontation with Brussels over its handling of Volkswagen, with the dispute likely to end up in court. The EU Commission believes Germany is being too lenient with its handling of EU rules as it has still not punished Volkswagen for the emissions scandal – but Germany does not want to give in. A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport said; ‘We do not share the opinion of the EU Commission and will respond to the EU Commission accordingly.’ If the sides to not reach agreement, the debate will end up at the European Court of Justice.

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