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Last week capped the end of the first episode of the post-dieselgate era, and the beginning of the second, with the landmark proposal of the European Commission to drastically beef up the enforcement system for our vehicles. The dieselgate scandal has painfully laid bare how the 28 national regulators have been utterly unwilling and unable to address the festering non-compliance of vehicles. Last week’s proposal introduces a very necessary level of European oversight, including, crucially, the possibility for EU-level fines, the stick without which all the carrots in the proposal would not work.
Why is it important to us? Because it is to an extent a reward for a very long and hard fight to get vehicle air pollution under control. Already in 1998 we published evidence that setting standards on paper is not enough because they are flagrantly breached in the real world. Over the past years we have massively stepped up our efforts – because the gap between the paper standards and the real world grew to astronomical proportions. And the proposal goes a long way in strengthening the enforcement. It’s not perfect – nothing is – and we will fight for further improvements, but for sure the Commission has put in a serious effort.
Why is it important to policymaking on environmental issues? Because if this proposal gets adopted, it is not impossible to think that faith in Europe’s environmental standards and regulations would be renewed to some extent, and that the standards we put on paper would actually be delivered on the road. It really could make all the other work in this area much more meaningful because the policies might actually start to deliver as intended.
And how could it even be important for Europe? Because one of the things Europeans still like about Europe is its environmental laws. Even those that want to close their borders for migrants understand that you can’t do the same for air and water – or vehicles for that matter. That’s one of the reasons dieselgate was so painful; it trampled on one of the few remaining sources of European pride – together with pride in European engineering.
Now what will happen? For sure we’re up for a bloody battle; national governments never like being closely watched. But the Commission seems determined to make the car testing system work – for the single market to properly work for cars. Many in Parliament will side with the environment and public health. And, who knows, maybe even the Council will be more reasonable than we fear. After all, only a handful of member states type-approve vehicles in serious numbers. All the other countries just have to accept the bitter fruits of their work – non-compliant vehicles – and might not mind if someone forces them to do their job properly.
Wishful thinking? Time will tell. But it was a big week regardless.