Only Germany stands in way of crucial Dieselgate fixes

Crucial reforms of the system of testing and approving vehicles, which will help ensure Dieselgate can never happen again, have been tentatively agreed by all EU governments except one. Germany is demanding more time to agree a compromise that has been discussed for nearly 18 months – and is set to be formally adopted by industry ministers on 29 May.

The Maltese presidency of the EU will push ahead with the compromise text when ministers meet despite the opposition of the German delegation following the meeting of national representatives on 12 May. Germany submitted last-minute amendments to the draft compromise just two days before the meeting, opposing the handing any national powers to EU level. The delay is due to different stances being taken by Germany’s transport and environment ministries.

All other member states have agreed to allow vehicle tests by the Commission and set a national target for how many cars should be tested after they have been sold. However, national regulators will be let off the hook by exempting themselves from any effective oversight – rather than face inspections by independent auditors. They also refuse to open up the new Forum on Enforcement to third parties – leaving it as a member states-only club – or to give power to the Commission to develop future on-road CO2 tests.

T&E’s clean vehicles and air quality manager, Julia Poliscanova, said: ‘We know all European carmakers have been abusing the weak EU testing system to circumvent the rules and then emit more on the road. But Germany is the only country lobbying to retain the failed status quo in Europe that would continue allowing carmakers to cheat by failing to implement checks and balances in the system. This regulatory capture is not in the interests of German citizens.’

Just this week a new study published in Nature found that higher-than-permitted diesel vehicle emissions caused 38,000 premature deaths worldwide in 2015 – of which 11,400 were in Europe. The study, carried out by the International Council on Clean Transportation and Environmental Health Analytics, looked at the health impact of excess nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel cars.

One of the authors, Josh Miller, told Politico: ‘The European Union alone produced nearly 70 percent of the [worldwide] excess diesel NOx emissions from light-duty vehicles — passenger cars, trucks, and vans.’

Last month the European Parliament voted to strengthen type approval after its Dieselgate inquiry (EMIS) highlighted national regulators’ failure to enforce existing defeat device rules and check cars rigorously. The result of this failure is at least 29 million dirty diesel cars and vans driving on Europe's roads today. Volkswagen’s cheating and, more recently, Fiat’s special treatment are the tip of the iceberg to which national authorities continue to turn a blind eye, even after the revelations.