National regulators at the heart of Dieselgate – European Parliament investigation

National regulators failed to implement the existing rules on vehicle emissions testing, thus paving the way for the Dieselgate scandal, a parliamentary investigation has found. Members of the European Parliament's Dieselgate enquiry identified three main failures by the national authorities in charge of testing new vehicles before they could be sold: failure to independently test cars in order to verify their performance on the road; failure to search for illegal defeat devices despite clear obligations to do so; and failure to put in place and apply dissuasive penalties on carmakers.

 

The draft report, authored by MEPs Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (Alde) and Jens Gieseke (EPP), also recommends that the European Commission have a single commissioner in charge of policies on cutting air pollution as well as regulating the sources of emissions such as road transport. MEPs also said the Commission was too slow to adopt the new Real-world Driving Emissions (RDE) test protocol and was not rigorous enough in checking how well the governments are implementing EU laws.

 

T&E welcomed the findings and proposed solutions, saying the Parliament has a unique opportunity to shape reform of the EU vehicles testing system in the current negotiations on the Type Approval Framework Regulation (TAFR), which is urgently needed. It called for a new independent European Vehicles Surveillance Agency that would check on-road performance of vehicles to ensure they meet all the safety and environmental standards in the real world. The EU Agency should also supervise the work of the national regulators.

 

T&E clean vehicles manager Julia Poliscanova said: ‘At the heart of the Dieselgate scandal in Europe lies the testing system that today is shrouded in secrecy and cronyism. It’s high time to demand Europe’s testing authorities put public health above economic interests of national car champions. We call on MEPs to strengthen the current draft recommendations to ensure the future EU vehicle testing system is independent, transparent and rigorous with effective oversight at EU level. We, Europeans, deserve to breathe cleaner air.’

 

The Commission said it would not comment until the Parliament's report was final, but it has begun legal action against seven countries – including Germany, Spain and the UK – for not properly policing car emissions. Infringement proceedings are being taken against the seven for: failing to set up penalty systems to deter car manufacturers from violating car emissions legislation, or not applying such sanctions where a breach of law has occurred and sharing the related investigations data.

As national regulators continue to fail to do their job, other authorities are waking up to the harm caused by diesel emissions. Last month the mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens said their cities will not allow diesel-powered cars and trucks by the middle of the next decade. In London a campaign group of doctors, nurses and health professionals called for the mayor to commit to phasing out diesel vehicles. They said that deaths from diesel fumes-related paediatric asthma are disproportionately much higher in London than the rest of Europe.

 

Meanwhile, some analysts predict diesel cars will ‘almost disappear’ from the global market within 10 years due to both competition from cheaper electric cars and tougher emission standards. As the cost of electric and hybrid vehicles continue to drop, they will cancel out diesel cars’ traditional price advantage, a report by Swiss bank UBS forecasted. At the same time tighter emission limits and declining public support towards diesel will see new diesel car sales in Europe fall from 50% to just 10 per cent by 2025, it said.